The Armory Life was fortunate to have the honor of sitting down for an interview with Carol Reese, matriarch of the Reese family that founded Geneseo, Illinois’ Springfield Armory.
Having been an integral part of the founding of the company nearly half a century ago — along with her husband Robert (Bob) Reese, and her sons Denny, Dave and Tom — she provided a truly fascinating take on the beginnings of the company, as well as where it stands today.
We would like to thank Mrs. Reese for taking the time to do this Q&A session with The Armory Life.
The Armory Life (TAL): Please tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, where did you grow up, etc.?
Carol Reese (CR): I’m just a country girl when it comes down to it. I was born on a farm in rural Coal Valley, Illinois, and went to school there through the eighth grade. After that, I went to Orion High School in Orion, Illinois.
TAL: How did you meet your future husband, Bob Reese?
CR: Well, one day I was at a gas station (it was my senior year of high school), and Bob saw me and apparently thought I was cute. When I pulled out of the station, he decided he was going to try to ask me out. So, he followed me until I stopped, which was at my home.
Well, I had a big family — I had five siblings — and the whole family started boiling out of the house when they saw two cars pull up. Bob had the gumption to walk up, in front of all these people, and ask me my name. Then, he asked me on a date. I thought, “Gosh, he’s a good-looking guy. I think I should!”
Well, we hit it off, and right after I graduated high school in 1952, we got married 10 days later. Bob had been activated as a member of the National Guard for Korea and was stationed in California. He came home on the troop train, and we were married. The next day, we took off for California.
TAL: After California, you all decided you wanted to come back to the Geneseo area?
CR: Definitely. After Bob’s time of service ended, we headed back to the area here and moved around a little bit. I got some jobs here and there to help make a little money. Bob at that time was working as a car salesman, but it was pretty obvious it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
We found out that Bob’s mother was in poor health, so we went home to their family farm outside Geneseo to help out. We started farming, raising hogs, and planting beans and corn. It was very hard work, and unfortunately, we were not making enough money to support us. With a family of three boys, money always seemed like it was in short supply.
TAL: Was farming what you and Bob saw as the future for the family?
CR: Bob’s passion was guns, and he also realized he needed to do something else beyond farming to bring in more money. In fact, he was a great shot. He was the North American Junior Champion in Trap Shooting when he was 16, and on the farm he would do tricks for the boys like shooting dimes out of the air with his .22 rifle.
So, with the government arsenal right there next to us in Rock Island, he decided to go by and take a look. When he was there, he found piles, tons and tons, of cut up, demilitarized U.S. government surplus weapons.
This led to him starting a business as a surplus dealer. He started buying these parts and bringing them to the farm in our red farm truck. He would unload it on the feed floor, and then the kids and everybody would start going through it to pull out parts that could be sold. We realized we really had something here.
TAL: In our previous interview with your son, Denny, the CEO of Springfield Armory, he mentioned that when the opportunity came up to buy the company that would become the Geneseo Springfield Armory, his father, Bob, called you about it. Can you tell us a bit about this?
CR: Bob and Denny had gone down to Texas to settle up with the company there as it owed us money for some parts we had sold them. Once they got there, Bob and Denny realized there was a great opportunity.
Bob called me and said, “Carol, we’ve got an opportunity here to buy this company, and we want to go for it.” I said, “Yes!”. I trusted their judgement, but I also appreciated his making me a part of the decision.
So, we took a mortgage out on the farm, and they bought out the company and all the parts and moved it all to Geneseo, the new home of Springfield Armory. We knew it was a big gamble to take on this new business and to risk the family farm, but we believed in it. That’s why we took this huge risk, and it was the right thing to do. I’m so glad we did.
TAL: In our interview with Denny, he mentioned how important a role family plays in Springfield Armory. This is true with the Reese family, but also with the employees as part of the broader Springfield Armory family. Can you tell us your thoughts on this?
CR: Looking back, I am amazed at what we managed to accomplish. It was a lot of hard work, but it was all worth it. This small little family was able to create this company, and also hire on people to work there that care as much about it as we do. We worked hard to instill a very good work ethic in the boys, and I think that has carried over to the company.
I remember, in the early days we would have “board meetings” at the family dinner table. It was all about the business, but it was the family together working on it. It was important to us that we spend time together like this. I think that this type of “family” view of working hard and caring about the work we do has carried over to the company as it is today, even as big as it is today!
TAL: Legacy was another thing that Denny mentioned in his interview, and how he believes the company is the legacy of the family’s work. Can you tell us your thoughts on this?
CR: I agree. I really am proud of what Bob and the boys created, and what I was part of helping to create. It gives me a sense of awe that we managed to do this, and it was a wonderful thought that we would be able to pass something like this on to our children and grandchildren. The success of this company is an amazing legacy.
Bob and I tried very hard to instill in all three boys a good work ethic, an ability to improvise and think on their feet. The boys carried on the tradition of what we were trying to do with the company. Our legacy is what the boys have done, and the company we created. Bob would always say, “If you boys don’t work hard, you’re going to end up in the poorhouse.” It looks like they listened!
TAL: If Bob were here today (editor’s note: Mr. Robert Reese passed away in 2019), how do you think he would answer that question?
CR: Bob was the most humble man you could ever meet, despite all he had accomplished. If you asked him what he did, he would just say, “I’m still raising hogs and corn.” He would never brag; I never heard him do it even once. But I know deep down he was very proud of what the family had accomplished with Springfield Armory.
TAL: Guns were clearly a big part of Bob’s and the boys’ lives. How about you? Do you have a passion for firearms?
CR: I actually wasn’t raised around guns. But I developed a love of hunting and would go deer hunting on the farm. After I took my first 10-point buck there, I was hooked! Over the years, Bob and I have been around the world on hunting trips, to places like Alaska, Mexico, Mongolia, Argentina, Africa and more. I also loved turkey hunting here on the farm. I also love fishing, from here in Illinois all the way to the Amazon as well as the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.
TAL: With your long view of the company from its beginnings all the way through today, what do you see as Springfield Armory’s future here in Geneseo?
CR: I am so proud of what Springfield Armory has been able to do for the community here in Geneseo. This company is very committed to its hometown of Geneseo, and part of this commitment is the fact it’s building a 200,000-plus square foot facility right here to expand the company. I think the future of Springfield Armory is looking very good!
TAL: Mrs. Reese, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and give us this fascinating insight into Springfield Armory and its founding. We truly appreciate it.
CR: Thank you!
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