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One of the first things she fired in her new kiln was a ceramic coffee set in black glaze. She gave it to a friend for a house warming present, little realizing that her friend was also taking ceramic lessons. When her friend’s teacher saw the coffee set, the teacher wondered how the black glaze had been fired to such a brilliant finish. Subsequently, the Darbys made a kiln for the teacher.
Soon after, someone called from Oklahoma City asking for a kiln. Then someone called from West Texas. Six months later, the Darbys leased a warehouse and hired two employees.
Over the years, Frances Darby became the sole owner and worked 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. Sometimes she sat up all night test firing. “I used to think that if I ever got sales up to a certain point, I’d take the day off,” she once said. “When sales reached that point, I didn’t even know it, I was so busy.”
In 1982, Frances approached John Hohenshelt, Sr, who was then vice president of manufacturing at Tonka Toys. “John, I’ve decided to sell you my company,” she said. They laughed together, but a year later he did indeed own Paragon. He ran Paragon until 1998, when his son, John S. Hohenshelt, took over as president.
The Paragon factory has grown from a garage workshop to a 50,000-square-foot plant in Mesquite, Texas, just outside Dallas. The company has produced over 380,000 kilns to date.
For more information, visit www.paragonweb.com.