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 Business > Manufacturing

6823 Irene Road | Belvidere, IL 61108 | www.airotool.com

A movie could be made of Heide and Gerhard Abramat’s all-American success story. Heide, a German native, was born during World War II and grew up only three houses from the Berlin Wall.

“Bombs were dropping when my mother gave birth to me and the hospital nurse came in and said, ‘You need to go down into the bunker,’ so my mother grabbed me and caught the elevator herself,” says the owner of Airo Tool and Manufacturing Co. in Belvidere, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1963.

“I remember the constant rattle of sub-machine guns.”

Heide’s late husband Gerhard, a native of Rostock, Germany immigrated to New Jersey at 14 in 1956 and eventually moved to Chicago. The two met in Berlin where he was stationed with the U.S. Army in the early ’60s. They were engaged after only three dates in the span of two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Heide followed him back to the states.

Now covering three generations, the family business got its impetus when the couple bought a Bridgeport machine for $1,200 from Gerhard’s boss at the mold-making shop. Their first customer came in after the couple moved to Palatine and found a neighbor needing a part milled for his company. “From there business mushroomed,” recalls Heide, then a young mother who learned to work a lathe while Gerhard went to work.

The mom-and-pop venture eventually migrated from injection molds to blow molds and opened a 2,300 square-foot building in Barrington in 1974, becoming Airo Mold & Tool. As work expanded, they purchased a 6,000 square-foot facility in Marengo and changed to their present name. “Those early days were tough; I was in tears many times,” says Heide, who recalls loading molds into the back of her station wagon for long out-of-state trips. Now they are currently in their 12,000 square-foot building in Belvidere, IL.

Airo Tool’s product line includes striker plates, cutting sleeves, pins and bushings, knives and blow stem components. The Abramats’ eldest son, Roy, vice president at the Belvidere plant, began working for his father at age 14. Gerhard died of cancer in 1994 on the same day he held Roy’s new-born son, Nicholas, for the first time. Now Nicholas works for the family business. “The kid is just like his dad—he can make anything and is phenomenal at it,” says Heide of the father-and-son team who, in their spare time, modify cars as auto enthusiasts. The Abramats’ daughter, Rachel, works in the office as account manager while her husband, Dan Dittbenner, office manager, has been instrumental in bringing on-board a number of state-of-the-art innovations over the years.

Roy says, “My father’s goal was to provide for his family and he and mother endured many sacrifices and were always looking toward the future.” It was after Gerhard’s death that Heide and Roy, anxious to keep her husband’s dream alive, redirected the company’s focus from molds to tooling. Today the company employs 14 full-time workers and has 280 customers throughout North America. The family regularly donates money to Christian missions and orphanages in Russia.

“Everybody in the industry knows Airo Tool,” Heide says with a smile. “We have a good team. I could not have done this in any other country. I always loved America.”