by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
THE WOLVERINE SIGN WORKS family gathered Thursday, June 16 in front of the company’s Owosso-based office, where the company has operated since 1916. Shown here are (from left): Jim Fox, account executive; Tony Pulse, construction crew chief; Bruce Cook, chairman and former owner; Mary Jo Damm-Strong, office manager; Anna Owens, VP of Sales; Laura Davis, VP of Finance; Carl Baker, construction team member; Andrew Helvie, associate manager; Paul Cook, President and the fourth generation of the Cook family to run the business; and Curtis Fitch, construction team member. Not pictured was Lisa Hitchcock, real estate manager. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
The Cook family and its extended work family are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wolverine Sign Works in Owosso, which was founded in 1916 by Ralph Vosburg and J. Gratz Cook. The company, with the office located at 923 Bradley St. in the former Tooley Mattress Factory and the paint shop across the road at 920 Bradley, rents and maintains billboards in nine states as far west as the Dakotas, and the business has been in the Cook family for most of its 100 years.
Gratz sold his stake in the company to Vosburg in 1922, though the Cook family re-joined the Wolverine team in 1924 when Gratz Cook’s son, Don, was hired as a salesman. Vosburg began selling stock in the company to Don soon after, and following Vosburg’s untimely death in 1926, his son, Leon Vosburg, shared ownership of the company with Cook. The two took the business into the early 1960s together before Cook bought Vosburg out and became the sole owner. Don’s sales talents brought many longtime clients into the fold for Wolverine, a list that includes Auto Owners Insurance (98 years, pre-dating Don), Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth (50-plus years), and Pioneer State Mutual Insurance (80-plus years).
Don’s son, Bruce came to the company in 1970 after working in construction for many years in Niles, MI. Bruce merged his building company with Wolverine and trained to be Don’s successor until 1993, when Don retired and passed along control of the company.
The current president of the company, Bruce’s son Paul, was lured away from Westinghouse Nuclear in Pittsburgh, where he worked as a nuclear engineer, in 1985, a position which he still holds. His brother, Tom, moved back to Michigan in 1994 with his wife, Anna Owens, who joined the company and currently holds the title of Vice President of Sales. Bruce retired in 2008 to focus on his work with the Cook Family Foundation, though he is still the Chairman of the Board for Wolverine. Bruce and his wife, Jackie provide Shiawassee County high school graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships annually through the foundation.
Paul credits the longtime success of the business to building relationships with clients, in addition to providing the best possible quality products. He also emphasizes loyalty, both to the company’s clients and employees, a point which was confirmed by his office staff. Vice President of Finance Laura Davis, who has been with the company for 27 years, said that Wolverine is “the best place I could imagine working,” and that the Cooks “go above and beyond for their employees.”