Half a century ago, Marion was on the cusp of being the next big thing in computing. A company once known as Fulfillment Corporation of America was doing databases before databases were cool. A big part of the company is their former Senior Vice President Larry Geissler, who remains a pillar of the community.
FCA was founded in Marion in 1948 by two forward thinking businessmen—Wendell Ward and Edwin “Jack” Kinter—who worked together in Chicago for Time Inc., developing a unique database management system before the word “database” was known. It used electronic manipulation of 80 column IBM cards where unique combinations of key “punches” made data capable of being manipulated in meaningful ways far faster than manual methods.
According to Geissler, they selected Marion because of the rail service, renting a building on West Center Street to form their own company.
“Rail service was important at that time because that is how all mail was transported,” said Geissler.
The company grew serving the publishing industry in managing subscriber data information. Through the years, they had part of their operations at various Marion locations, including South Prospect Street, Blaine Avenue, numerous downtown locations along West Center and Oak streets, and an office for their Defense Division in Dayton to serve the Wright Patterson Air Force base in managing inventory and other data.
By the late 1950s, they grew to open an outbound mailing operation, as well as clerical operations. They even formed another division, INELECTRON, to try to build a commercial computer in the 1950s but, unfortunately, that division ran out of money—otherwise Marion might have become another IBM or UNIVAC.
The fulfillment business prospered and, by 1960, there was an IBM 1401 mainframe computer on the third floor at 381 W.Center–the first in Marion. They soon expanded and installed two more mainframes to handle all the computing required by an expanding customer base.
By the mid 1960’s, these two mainframes were running around the clock and FCA rented time from General Telephone in Marion, as well as from Cooper Bessimer in Mt. Vernon. The maintained databases totaled over 25,000,000 households in the United States. And, by 1985, were mailing over 90,000,000 bills, promotions, offers, and gift cards nationwide.
“This staff of quality people, more than 200 of which were with the company for 10 or more years, supported all facets of Marion,” said Geissler. “From being the highest per capita donors to United Way, to being active with the Cancer Society, the Red Cross, and Christmas Clearinghouse, it was a loyal and high quality staff, including computer programmers and operators and high end statistical analysts, dedicated clerical and customer service people.”
Fulfillment’s payroll averaged 200-300 in the 50’s and 60’s, and peaked at 500-700 in the 1980’s. FCA was the biggest customer of the Columbus post office with over 120,000,000 incoming pieces and 90,000,000 outbound.
According to Geissler, the glory days of FCA ended when the company was acquired by Kable Fulfillment, in the late 1990s and it components were relocated to various other Kable divisions.
“FCA provided 60 years of community support and quality performance as Marion’s high tech best kept secret,” said Geissler, “but, for those 60 years, FCA was the gold standard of community support and the MarionMade! spirit and was a significant player in Marion’s business history.”
While the company may no longer be part of Marion, Geissler certainly is. In the intervening years, he has served Marion as a dedicated community volunteer, lending his six decades of leadership and expertise as a board member for no less than six local nonprofit organizations. A youth advocate, Geissler has served for the last 12 years on the Scholarship Committee of Marion Community Foundation.
“People talk about Larry Geissler and his career in Fulfillment in legendary terms,” said Julie Prettyman, who heads up the scholarship program at Marion Community Foundation. “I’ve known him because of our scholarship program and his impact on the community there goes well beyond his career. He has been instrumental in establishing the Foundation’s scholarship program with a legacy that will extend well beyond any of our lifetimes.”
Geissler is a huge proponent of all facets of education—from early literacy to apprenticeships, college, graduate school, and more—whatever moves a young person to the next level. His two children, Eric and Traci, are local educators, as was his late wife, Carol, for whom he established a memorial scholarship. He and his wife, Mollie, reside in Marion.
Geissler will be among the 22 People, Places, Products, and Programs honored at this year’s Celebrate Marion Gala to be held June 1 at the Marion Palace Theatre. The Gala and show, now in its third year, is the major fund raiser for the MarionMade! community pride program.