HISTORY OF CHURCH GRAPHICS
While in college at West Virginia University, Bill Bright and his brother, John, started traveling around to different churches during the Christmas season to take pictures of them decorated in their holiday splendor. The brothers’ goal was to then sell those pictures back to the church the following year in the form of Christmas cards, postcards and note cards. The churches could then sell the cards as a fundraiser.
By marketing themselves through direct mail, the brothers’ business soon had churches as customers from around the nation. To meet churches’ needs, the brothers would travel in the summer with their car loaded to the top with fake poinsettias and Christmas greenery to give churches the Christmas look even when it was sweltering outside.
It was a lot to keep track of while also trying to balance college. But the Brights were able to prosper. In fact, the business did so well, the brothers hired a bunch of Bill Bright’s Sigma Nu fraternity brothers to work for them.
“They liked working for us, and I learned a lot of lessons from the church graphics business on how to manage people and how to use direct mail,” Bright said.
Once Bright graduated from college, he and his brother expanded their little company and gave it the name Bright of America. They moved their operations out of their family’s Summersville home and the company quickly grew to become a major supplier of note cards, postcards, candles, commemorative plates, placemats and just about everything else to churches, women’s clubs and other nonprofit groups.
“At one time we were the largest placemat manufacturer in the country. We would make those laminated placemats with pictures of the state on them. People would buy a whole set of their state.”
The company grew quickly, and by the late 1980s, Bright of America had become an international fundraising graphics, paper converting and marketing firm with between 500 and 1,000 employees and $20 million in sales.
“I knew all of the employees by name,” Bright said. But by the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bright decided the timing was right to diversify. So he sold off Bright of America to Russ Berrie & Co., which kept the company’s operations in Summersville.
The majority of this historical account are taken from an article by Beth Gorczyca Ryan of The State Journal published in 2008 regarding Bill Bright receiving the 2007 Lorenelle White Lifetime Achievement Award.