Coca-Cola Bottling Company Celebrates More Than Four Decades in Plymouth

Photographer: Jayme Goetz

In the office of Francis Ellert, plant manager of Coca-Cola Bottling Company, you’ll find Coke memorabilia adorning the walls, shelves and desk. He’s a long-time collector, and when asked about how he’s procured such an assortment of items, it becomes apparent that his growing collection is representative not only of his passion for Coca-Cola as a long-time local mainstay but the solidarity of the Marshall County community as well.

“A lot of people will bring stuff to me at my office, and they’ll say they found something in their grandmother’s basement and want to add it to my collection because they found out one way or another that I’m a collector,” says Ellert, a graduate of John Carroll University. “It’s interesting to see it keep happening, and it’s nice to connect with people in that way.”

Originally from Cleveland, Ellert moved to Indiana in the early 1990s and went to work in the admissions office at Culver Academy prior to joining Coca-Cola in July of 2001. He says working for the company still feels as fresh as it was on his first day, in large part because of Coca-Cola’s close involvement with Marshall County schools, businesses and charitable organizations.

“There’s something different going on every day with new product innovations all the time, and that’s also what I’ve enjoyed in my time at Coca-Cola,” Ellert says. “That and the fact that we’re in a business that gives people great things to drink and makes people smile. We get to have a lot of fun doing what we do.”

The history of Coca-Cola in Marshall County and surrounding areas goes back as far as some of the throwback memorabilia that has slowly accumulated in Ellert’s office. His father-in-law, E.P. Severns, served as president of Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Kokomo for 60 years, and Severns’ father and two uncles purchased the Kokomo, Logansport and Peru Coca-Cola franchise back in 1935.

Severns recently retired, maintaining a position as chairman of the company board, and his son Craig, who went to work for his dad in 1969, now serves as president. The elder Severns, now 88 years old, opened up the Plymouth plant in 1978, and Ellert says the facility has been a fixture of Marshall County since that time.

“Between the Plymouth and Kokomo facilities we’ve been able to remain a decent-sized employer,” he says. “We’re strictly a distribution center now and shut down our production facility in 1989, and while we’ve had some attrition over the years we’ve never laid anybody off. We’re proud of that.”

The Plymouth location currently employs 28 people, with 65 at its sister Kokomo facility.

“We’ve enjoyed a very nice relationship with the local community,” Ellert adds. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to give back in a lot of ways, and that’s a direct result of what the community has given us. So it’s been a harmonious relationship.”

Ellert’s own extensive community involvement is indicative of his passion for the county he’s lived in for nearly 30 years now. He’s been a Rotary Club member for 17 years, served on local college and hospital boards and served on the board of United Way and the Plymouth-based Marshall-Starke Development Center for developmentally disabled individuals. In 2010, he was named the Marshall County United Way’s Volunteer of the Year.

“I’ve been fortunate to serve in various ways, and it’s been a pleasure since the community has given me so much as a great place to live,” Ellert says. “The quality of life here in the county is great, and you have access to so many different arts and cultural events and sporting events from the local to the collegiate level. And, of course, the natural resources with the great freshwater lakes are some of the best places to recreate and spend time with your family.”

During his time away from Coca-Cola and various local service duties, Ellert enjoys golfing and boating with his wife Susan and their four kids — Betse, 20, Pierce, 19, Fritz, 16, and Cabot, 14 — and occasionally finds time to visit auctions for his steadily expanding Coke memorabilia collection.

“I have a lot of old bottles from various facilities all over the country through the years, and vintage metal signs that used to hang on old country stores,” Ellert says. “It’s a fun hobby because you get to talking to people about old bottles and stuff, and they’ll bring up memories from their childhood here in the county or around the area. You create a connection that way, and it will put a smile on their face. And that’s what our business is all about.”