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Gary and Kim Heiman bring personal passion to their work leading United Way campaign

'Almost like a second full-time job for them'
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 04, 2018

CINCINNATI -- These days, Gary and Kim Heiman run Standard Textile, a Reading-based company with 400 local employees that creates and manufactures textile products that it sells worldwide.

Their family's Cincinnati beginnings were far more modest.

Gary Heiman's grandfather, Charles Heiman, moved to Cincinnati with his wife, son and daughter after escaping a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. The family spent time in Switzerland, Paris and then London before coming to the U.S. and deciding to settle near relatives in Cincinnati.

Charles Heiman

Charles Heiman spoke little English and had trouble getting a job, so he started his own company. He started a linen distribution company by purchasing sheets that were overruns from other textile companies and selling them to hospitals after embroidering the clients' names onto the fabric.

The company was successful and grew, but Gary Heiman, now the company's president and CEO, did not live a cushy life as a kid.

"I grew up in Bond Hill, and I walked to school every day because it cost a nickel to ride the bus," he said. "And my father said, 'Look, we don't have nickels to spare.'"

Heiman didn't grow up in poverty, he said, but social service agencies played important roles helping his family in Europe and England and again after they got to the U.S.

This weaving machine shows just how far Standard Textile has come since its founding. (Dwayne Slavey | WCPO)

That's why leading this year's fundraising campaign for United Way of Greater Cincinnati is about more than being good corporate citizens for Gary and Kim Heiman. It's personal.

"We didn't get here because we were born with a lot of money and we just took over a company that was doing fabulously well. We had to work for it, and we got a lot of assistance," Gary Heiman said. "United Way covers 140 agencies, and it attacks the issue of poverty in a holistic manner together with all these agencies. We really feel that it's a very worthwhile place to put your money."

'A second full-time job'

Kim Heiman, Standard Textile's managing director, has a family story different from her husband's, but it still plays a role in her effort to give back.

She is a native of Nashville, Tennessee, and comes from what she calls "a very, very long line of active --and a little bossy -- women who were very, very community minded."

Gary and Kim Heiman. (Photo provided)

Her grandmother even helped create the Nashville metropolitan government system, she said.

"I grew up with this sense that we were really here to be about serving our community and to help our community prosper and flourish as best we can," she said.

The passion that both Gary and Kim Heiman have brought to their campaign work has been a blessing for Michael Johnson, who took over as CEO of United Way of Greater Cincinnati in July.

"I've been involved in other United Way campaigns, and sometimes you'll see other campaign chairs do phone calls, but I've done maybe two dozen face-to-face meetings with them," Johnson said. "How they've opened up doors for United Way and been able to get in with the CEOs and board members of some of these corporations has been absolutely amazing."

Standard Textile's 400 local employees raised more than $500,000 for their company's United Way campaign, far surpassing the total raised in 2017, Kim Heiman said.

"This has been, in my opinion, almost like a second full-time job for them," Johnson said.

The couple has been willing to go to some extraordinary lengths to support United Way and its member agencies, he added.

"I've watched them host events at their house. They've had events at other people's houses. I've seen them attend lunch meeting, speak in boardrooms," Johnson said. "I've seen them rappel off a building."

Kim Heiman smiles as she rappels down The Westin for a fundraiser in August. (Photo by Matt Steffen | United Way of Greater Cincinnati)

That's right. Both Gary and Kim Heiman rappelled down 17 stories from the top of The Westin hotel Downtown in August as part of the "Over The Edge" fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, one of the nonprofits that gets funding from United Way.

'You've heard of Standard Oil?'

To Johnson, that shows just how far the Heimans are willing to go to honor their family histories and help the community that helped Gary Heiman's family all those years ago.

Charles Heiman started Standard Textile in 1940 with a good idea and a single sewing machine in a room in his family's apartment.

A Standard Textile employee examines fabric in one of the company's labs. (Dwayne Slavey | WCPO)

He named it Standard Textile, Kim Heiman said, because he used to see signs for Standard Oil on gas stations that he would pass. He figured that was a name that Americans trusted, she said.

When he went on sales calls and was asked about the company name, he would say: "You've heard of Standard Oil? Well, I'm Standard Textile."

The company has grown exponentially since its start, and its headquarters in Reading has expanded several times.

Pictures from throughout the company's history line the walls just around the corner from high-tech labs where employees research, develop and test new textiles to market and sell.

Even the old sewing machine that started everything has a place of honor near portraits of Gary Heiman's grandmother and grandfather.

"When I think about Gary's family, they didn't get a handout. They were immigrants that came to this country. They got a helping hand," Johnson said. "And that's what United Way is all about. It's about utilizing our hands to lift up our brothers and sisters across the region."

This was the sewing machine used to launch Standard Textile. (Dwayne Slavey | WCPO)

More information about United Way of Greater Cincinnati's 2018 campaign and how to contribute is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.