Special Reports

Business grows from dad's $600

The late Harry Rusk's homemade workbench sits near the entrance to the company that bears his name. It's well-worn, full of character and someday will be refurbished to closely match its original condition.

Rusk's son, Ken, would like to make that happen soon. But as president of the Harry B. Rusk Co., which manufactures X-ray phantom devices and other products that are distributed worldwide, day-to-day operations and a recent relocation are his top priorities.

"There are too many other little things going on right now," said Rusk, 64, who acquired a 5,100-square-foot facility in November a few blocks from the company's previous site near downtown Wichita. "You can do all the (renovation) work you want, but if you don't have that product going out the door, you're not going to be ahead."

Rusk and his six employees, which include his son, Ben, produce roughly 150 types of products, mostly for the medical field. They specialize in acrylic phantoms, which radiology departments use for comparisons to humans in X-ray technology.

The company also produces nonmedical products such as Dab-A-Lube plates for BG Products. The plates are used by automobile servicemen to show customers conditions of fluids.

It's part of the evolution of a company Harry Rusk purchased for $600 during the summer of 1967. Hoping to supplement his pending retirement from Boeing, he set up the workbench in his corner of his basement and began building penetrometers, devices used for measuring the penetration power of X-ray radiation.

The penetrometer was Harry Rusk's lone product when he started his business.

"He was kind of a gadget guy," Ken Rusk said. "With that company, he figured he could make $1,800 over what he drew in Social Security over a year."

Harry Rusk put family members to work as business grew. When he died in 1976, his daughter, Darlene Cox, who handled bookkeeping from the company's inception, kept the business going.

Ken Rusk gave up a job in metal sales in the mid-1980s and expanded his involvement in the company from part-time to full-time. Over the years, he has established a network with wholesalers across the country to help market the products made in Wichita.

"It stays pretty steady," Rusk said. "Until last year, we've experienced growth of about 10 to 15 percent each year. It dropped a little bit recently, in part because we had one of our major customers change locations."

Rusk's business has changed with the times. It has partnered with Fujifilm, a digital X-ray pioneer, to make digitally compatible phantoms. Rusk also maintains the patents on a rib cage phantom created at Duke University that the company helped develop.

Such is the work that spawned from Harry Rusk's humble beginnings.

"My two sisters and I have talked about that a lot," Ken Rusk said. "We've wondered, 'What would he think if he could see what we've done with those 600 bucks he invested?'

"He's supporting six people's lives by giving them jobs. He's helping the economy. I say 'he' but I mean 'we.' I think he'd really be amazed with what we've done."