TFI history captured in rescued memorabilia
Thomasville and furniture share a history dating back more than a century.
Thomasville Furniture Industries supported generations of Chair City workers during a time when this symbiotic relationship was unmistakable. A dedicated workforce taking pride in their final product turned Thomasville into the furniture capital of the world with TFI leading the way.
Those times are all but gone now, but a small group of former TFI employees are trying to keep this rich history from fading into obscurity.
Dave Ogren, a former TFI employee for 13 years, recently managed to save a large amount of historical documents, photographs and memorabilia from the showroom, now for sale, on Main Street.
The question now is what to do with it all.
"The ultimate goal is to have an area somewhere where we can present the history of TFI," Ogren said. "It goes back to 1904 and certainly has been a huge part of the city and the surrounding area."
Ogren came up with preservation idea spontaneously after first seeing the outside of the showroom decorated with a "For Sale" sign.
"When the 'For Sale' sign went up in front of the showroom office building, I got so emotional I had to pull over and sort of catch my breath," said Ogren. "I went in and talked to them and said we need to do something to preserve the history of the company.”
Ogren gained approval from the TFI headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., to go inside and retrieve any old records he wanted. Ogren and several others sorted through dozens of file cabinets, savings the items they felt were important and held historical significance. Many of the collected items go back decades.
"There is a tremendous variety," Ogren said. "We ended up with 24 large boxes full of files."
All of the collected items are being sorted and temporarily stored at the Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce. Once the final tally is complete, Ogren said everything soon will be moved to a city storage area being used by the Thomasville Historic Preservation Commission. Ogren hopes this historical memorabilia one day will be displayed in a Chair City museum.
"The dream is to have a physical building or museum," said Ogren. "It would great if we could pull that off and have room devoted to TFI. The company was very innovative in the things they did. They were an industry leader.”
David Yemm, Commission chairperson, said several discussions have been held regarding a possible Chair City museum, but no formal plans have been made. Yemm said the Commission is collecting all sorts of Thomasville history in the event the museum becomes a reality.
"I know there are a lot of people in town who would like to see a museum," Yemm said. "We have slowly been accumulating items that one day may go into a museum. If a museum ever were to come about, we would probably donate a majority of the items we have to it."
One possible place for a museum being considered is the Thomasville Police Department. Should TPD ever move into a new facility, Yemm said the current headquarters would be an ideal location.
"It would take a group of people to get serious about it," said Yemm. "You would have to figure out how to pay for it. [TPD] would be a good building for that use."
If anyone has additional TFI memorabilia to donate, contact Ogren at 886-8120 or Vickie Holder at 313-6786.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.