P. F. VerPlank immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands with his parents in 1889. The family settled in Western Michigan because of the large Dutch population there. The situation was very difficult for the family at that time and Peter left home to find work in one of the many furniture factories in the area. It was discovered that he had a natural artistic talent for wood carving. He was sent to art school for further development of his talent. After serving his obligation to his sponsors, he went to work for the Kroehler Furniture Company in Elgin, Illinois. While working for Kroehler, he found additional part time work at Western Casket Hardware Company, the predecessor of Elgin Metal Casket Company. He became very interested in the designs and processes used in manufacturing ornamental fixtures for caskets.Since there was great demand for these products, in 1909 he returned to Zeeland, Michigan and secured several investors who formed Zeeland Ornamental Company.
He was made the General Manager of the new company and given a liberal profit sharing incentive. He soon made enough money to buy out his original investors and to proceed in the development of his business. In addition to casket ornaments, he also manufactured ornamentation for circus wagons. He soon developed the business into casket hardware utilizing his talent for design. A few of those original designs are still used today in the VerPlank product line.
In the 1920’s, there was a glut of casket hardware. There were hundreds of manufacturers and profit margins were minimal. At the same time, metal caskets were gaining in popularity and availability was short. Peter built a sheet metal fabricating addition to his plant complete with presses and assembly equipment. He began manufacturing “hardware with caskets attached”. His caskets were shipped all over the United States in pine boxes by rail. The casket portion of his business was named Royal Casket Company. These products were widely advertised in the trade magazines “The American Funeral Director” and “Casket and Sunnyside”. The company continued to prosper, even through the Great Depression. After World War II, his four sons, Joseph, Frank, Marvin and Robert purchased the company. They operated the company successfully for the next 25 years. In the early 70’s, the third generation, Joel and James VerPlank, purchased the company. In the 1980’s, Royal Casket Company was merged and blended into a succession of companies.
In 1988, Joel VerPlank purchased a factory in Iron City, Tennessee in which Etheredge Manufacturing Company had produced casket shells. Mr. Etheredge had closed his assembly operation and concentrated his efforts on casket stampings. Joel VerPlank converted that shell assembly plant into a factory to produce completed caskets ready for resale. The entire facility was set up to produce higher quality 18 Gauge, 16 Gauge, Stainless Steel, Copper and Bronze caskets. VerPlank Enterprises has experienced continual growth since its inception.
In 1994, the fourth generation of the VerPlank family joined the business: Betsy (VerPlank) Kerl. After being Vice President and General Manager of the company, Betsy became President of Verplank Enterprises in 2012.