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Marsha Sumpter … A go-getter from the get-go

Bil-Mar Expressions ... Marsha Sumpter writes a weekly newspaper column, flies a plane, and operates a home business that creates specialty t-shirts, mugs, banners and other items.

From a country-girl raising hogs and writing news for a local newspaper, airplane pilot Marsha Sumpter of Kadoka has her plate full, and, it doesn’t look like retirement is coming anytime soon.

She was a legal secretary and also worked for a psychiatrist in Rapid City before moving back to the family farm 25 miles north of Philip (Fairchild Enterprises) where she was born and raised. Sumpter, a 20-year pork producer, served on the executive board and was vice president for a term. She started with 10 bred sows and finished with 3,000 feeder pigs.

She also served with the Haakon County Commissioners for two terms.

Writing the “Betwixt Places News” for the Pioneer Review since 1975, she started as a guest writer and, now living in Kadoka, she makes time to keep the column running. “They (Ravellettes) haven’t fired me yet,” she said. “I guess I’m supposed to be betwixt here and there,” she laughed.

Sumpter said she always wanted to fly and her husband searched the classified ads for an aircraft. The problem was she needed an instructor. She found one at the Philip Airport and she’s been a pilot since 1988. Sumpter is also the commander in the Civil Air Patrol of the Philip composite squadron.

If the hangar door is open at the Kadoka Airport, you know she’s enjoying the blue sky in her four-passenger Cessna 172.

Bill and Marsha purchased a home in Kadoka in December of 2003 and made the move in July of the following year. In the meantime the Sumpters make time for their two daughters and four grandchildren and mother Ruth Fairchild.

Bil-Mar Expressions is the name of her newest business of 10 years. The business name came to light rather quickly. She laughed and said she didn’t know why her husband got the top billing on the name, other than it sounded better. The business is Marsha’s. Her husband, Bill, likes to farm, but he is supportive of all of her ventures – he found an airplane when she wanted to fly.

At Bil-Mar Expressions, Marsha can do most anything in the form of signs, banners, bumper stickers, shirts, coffee mugs. And if she doesn’t know how, she’ll figure it out. After 10 years she’s still learning and working to keep up with technology.

“It’s been a challenge learning all this,” Sumpter said while admitting that at one time she was computer illiterate. She has four computers, and printers of different kinds and sizes that print a different task on a multitude of media types. It can be mind boggling, but Sumpter zips through tasks in no time.

Asked how she got into the business, she chuckled and said, “I must have had a bad night.” In reality, she knew she couldn’t raise hogs forever so she started looking for something else.

What resulted was her basement, home-based business which she operates on her own schedule, shuffling it between all the organizations she’s involved with.

With a little business like hers, she said the downfall is operating on a fixed cost no matter what the volume is.

Sumpter said she has to be careful when doing a job, making sure she doesn’t infringe on logos and decal copyrights. It’s not community property and she needs permission to carry it over to someone else. “It’s a cautious thing,” she added.

One of the latest projects she’s working on is centennial coffee mugs and t-shirts. The mugs and shirts are not purchased locally, but the final results come from local talent – John Solon’s sketch

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design and Marsha Sumpter’s application. In short, Solon’s design was scanned and reversed on a computer program then imported into another program for sizing.

Once it is printed on a special paper, Sumpter uses a heat press to draw moisture from the shirt and she marks the center points of the shirt and transfer.

The design is laid across the front of a polly-coated cotton shirt and covered with plain paper. Forty-eight seconds later, with 400-degree heat applied, the transfer turns to gases and there’s a permanent design. The gases, she said, go directly into the fabric so it will not turn rough or peel, but remain soft.

“Not every shirt can handle that kind of heat,” she added. The process on certain fabrics can leave a scorch mark, but Sumpter learned at a show in Las Vegas that a mist of hydrogen peroxide and water will take away scorch marks.

“The advantage of this is you can do as few or as many as the customer wants. You are not programmed to do 600 shirts to get the better bargain,” she said while finishing two shirts for an order. Sumpter said that fixed costs are pretty much the same and she does not charge for set-ups.

She has recently produced a low-number amount of items for the upcoming centennial. As the committee runs low on products, she’ll make more.

She demonstrated how she puts the design on mugs. In this process she wraps the design around a mug and tapes it down to not only keep the transfer centered, but to avoid air gaps. She rests the cup on a heated machine for five minutes, gives it a cold water bath, and the cup is done.

Depending on which project she’s working on (in this case vinyl for a sign) you’ll see her design on the computer. It’s sent to the plotter machine which cuts the design in great detail. From there she carefully hand weeds away the surplus media from the design.

“This is something that doesn’t mysteriously happens – you have to pay attention,” Sumpter stated.

Application tape is used to lift the design and to affix it to the product. This type of vinyl application was recently used to make caps for a local bar owner with the final step taking place on a cap press.

After these few demonstrations she said, “You just learned everything I did in the last 10 years.”

Sumpter purchased her equipment having no idea of its operation. She’s a determined lady and, if Sumpter has a problem, she calls the company for help and doesn’t give up until it’s resolved.

There’s been a lot of trial and error. Customers never see what she calls the bad stuff. T-shirts of such, she uses as work shirts.

“I claim to be my worst critic,” she added.

Other than ordering ink pens in quantities with a business name affixed, her other products have a true shop-at-home effect.

In her happy nature she said, “Tomorrow I might learn something new.”