R.K. LAROS SILK COMPANY Keeping the story from slipping away

Monday, February 11, 2019 by The Press in Local News

The R.K.Laros Foundation and the Industrial Archives and Library hosted a reception for the participants of the Laros Oral History Project made possible by a collaboration with the IAL. The Laros Foundation Chair, Vice Chair and Trustees attended the November 7th 2018 event.

The R.K.Laros Silk Mills Operated from 1919 to 1957 in Bethlehem and Kingston, Pennsylvania

The R.K.Laros Silk Mills Operated from 1919 to 1957 in Bethlehem and Kingston, Pennsylvania

The R. K. Laros Foundation and the Industrial Archives and Library hosted a joint reception at the Industrial Archives and Library to thank the nearly 30 individuals who have participated in the organizations’ joint Laros Oral History Project and to provide an interim report on the results of the Project to date.

Launched in March 2017, The Laros Oral History Project is documenting the history and impact of the R. K. Laros Silk Company on the Lehigh Valley community from the perspective of the everyday lives of employees and their families.

Born in Easton, Pa., and rising from very humble origins, Russell K. Laros founded the R. K. Laros Silk Company in Bethlehem in 1919, building it into a highly successful and leading American silk manufacturer. Initially focusing on the production of raw silk and then ladies’ undergarments, Laros – always the innovator – shifted production to parachutes and a pioneering synthetic blood plasma product during the Korean War years, called Plavolex.

Laros passed away in 1955 and the company was sold in 1957, ultimately operating under the Sure-Fit name.

“Unfortunately, over time, the Laros story is slowly beginning to slip away,” said Sharon Jones Zondag, executive director of The R. K. Laros Foundation and co-manager of the Laros Oral History Project. “The goal of this project is to get as much of the Laros legacy on the record before it is completely lost to time.”

Speaking on behalf of the project team, Robert Bilheimer, co-manager and producer/director for the project, thanked the project participants and provided an interim report on the project’s progress to date and its initial findings.

“Since March 2017, we have completed a total of 18 audio and videotaped interviews of 27 separate interviewees, or narrators as they are called,” he reported. “That has included former Laros Silk Company employees, family members of former employees, Laros family members and R. K. Laros Foundation Trustees. We are in the process of scheduling additional interviews into 2019.

“While the project is far from being completed,” Bilheimer said, “a consistent and clear picture is emerging of R. K. Laros as a caring, compassionate and innovative individual, who was deeply committed to his employees and his community and who built a very progressive company that fostered an unusually close-knit company culture among its employees.

“The company was also an anchor to its East Bethlehem community and was perhaps second only to Bethlehem Steel in shaping and influencing the most individual lives and families in the Greater Bethlehem area during the first half of the 20th Century,” he added.

Bilheimer is also Industrial Archives and Library general manager and a R. K. Laros Foundation trustee.

Rounding out the Project Team in addition to Zondag and Bilheimer is lead Interviewer and fellow R. K. Laros Foundation trustee Diane Donaher.

The Laros Oral History Project is a collaboration between The R. K. Laros Foundation and the Industrial Archives & Library. The foundation owns the interview recordings and materials and helps publicly promote the project and identify and recruit potential interviewees. The Industrial Archives & Library produces and directs the interviews and permanently houses the resulting recordings and transcriptions and coordinates their availability for public research.

“Through this Project, we are hoping to gain a much more thorough and richer understanding of the R. K. Laros Silk Company and fill in some of the gaps of knowledge that are widening as the Laros story begins to fade from the community’s collective memory,” Zondag said. “But we are still looking to the community for help. The project is gathering momentum, but we are certain there are wonderful untold stories out there that we will want to capture that will help round out the Laros story before this project comes to a close.

“So, as we look to wrap up the project sometime in 2019,” she said, “we invite anyone with any knowledge they might have about the Laros Silk Company, R. K. Laros or the Laros family to come forward and contact me to share their story. Whether you might be a former employee, a family member of a former employee or just an individual who has some information of interest, your participation will be much appreciated.”

Zondag can be reached by telephone at (610) 390-6016, or via email at larosfoundation@gmail.com.

Article courtesy the R.K. Laros Foundation