Vivian Burnett was the picture of a proper lady.
Born at the tail end of the 19th century in Kansas, she was no wilting flower. While a curse word never crossed her lips, you always knew where you stood. Family called her a yellow-dog Democrat and a fierce fighter for education. Kids in town knew her as Mrs. Burnett, teacher at the Cadmus two-room schoolhouse.
When it was time to go to school, Mrs. Burnett would ring a reverberating brass bell. She kept that bell until she passed away, but that would not be the last time it rang.
Vivian Burnett’s granddaughter is our very own Denise McIntosh, and Grandmother’s school bell still rings at Custom Powder Systems. “When we started the company,” Denise says, “we realized there was no way for everyone in the building to know when the team sold an order. So, I looked around at home and found Grandmother’s bell and said ‘That’s it!’”
Cadmus, Kansas is not easy to find on a map. It’s in an unincorporated section of Linn County and has never had a post office. Mrs. Burnett took on the responsibility of teaching students from first through fourth grade in just one room. She continued teaching into her seventies.
“Her bark was worse than her bite, but you certainly knew if you were crossing the line,” recalls Denise.
Even though Custom Powder Systems is known internationally, at its heart it’s always a family company.
Many on the team have been there since the beginning, and as with any family, when one person gets good news, it’s great news for everyone.
“Every week we talk as a group about upcoming projects, so everyone knows what’s in the pipeline. As soon as we ring that bell, people from all the other departments start showing up on the sales side excitedly saying ‘which one was it!?!’”
The tradition is that the person who gets a new customer or project is given the honor of ringing Grandmother Vivian’s School Bell. If the salesperson isn’t in the office, they are to designate an honorary bell ringer to spread the good news.
Denise recalls “years ago when we got a major order from China, it was such a big deal we had a parade around the office ringing the bell!” Even though the bell is now used to signify good news in the company, Denise hasn’t forgotten its origins. “It’s like we get to carry a little piece of those people in our lives who were special, you know? Grandmother lived until she was 96, never spent a day in the hospital, and made pecan rolls and cobblers people still talk about to this day.”
One Christmas morning, Vivian got up to watch the birds as she did each day. She sat and talked about the birds with her great-grandson, went back to lay down, and passed away quietly. “We all surmised that she knew she was going anyway, and asking the family to travel twice in the winter would be just too much,” remembers Denise (with a wink).
Today, Grandmother Vivian’s memory rings on each time a new order is placed.
However, for the Custom Powder family, hearing it means so much more than just “making a sale.” It’s a reminder of our values, principles, and commitment to treating each other the way Mrs. Burnett expected from her students.
We hope we have the chance to get an A+ on an assignment from you.