Walt Larmee was a big dude, tipping the scales at 240 pounds. When he walked down the hallways at Fern Creek High School, the floor rumbled beneath his feet. There was only one person who dared confront him face-to-face off the football field, and that was Mary Collings, the indefatigable English teacher who also has been nominated for induction into the Hall of Fame, posthumously. Mrs. Collings had to stand on her tip-toes and pull Walt down into her face. Her bite was every bit as bad as her bark, and she brought the class clown to his knees on more than one occasion. “My trolley’s going west and you better be on it,” she’d announce. Walt along with the late Nancy Lain [Martin] was chosen “Biggest Clown.”After graduation, Walt went to work for Otis Elevators, but his career as a mechanic’s helper came crashing down when he was laid off after only 90-days on the job. Next stop on the ladder-of-life was the Caudell Seed Co., where his future wife’s stepfather was the manager. “I lost 50 pounds lifting 100 pound bags of seed,” said Larmee, “and left the company for Western Kentucky University in the best shape of my life. But after only a semester, Walt decided college wasn’t for him. He was homesick, and probably love sick, at the same time. He and his girlfriend planned to get married when he got a “real” job.
In 1962, Walt landed a job on the assembly line at International Harvester and married Kay Cundiff, his high school sweetheart. While working on the line, he noticed some guys standing around drinking coffee.
“Who are they?” he asked a fellow worker. “They’re union officials,” replied his friend. Walt decided he wanted one of those cushy jobs and bucked the seniority system to get one. “I became the youngest shop steward at Harvester,” said Walt, as he recalled his climb up the ladder to “committeeman” in the United Auto Workers, where he handled personnel problems with management. Walt became a “problem solver,” and over the next two decades, learned that “ten percent of the people cause ninety percent of the problems.”
In 1984, Harvester closed its Louisville plant in and Walt helped union members find new jobs. CNN heard about the program and interviewed Walt, who continued to climb the ladder after 25-years at Harvester; but, one day while on a 40-foot extension ladder, painting a house, he looked down and wondered, “What would happen if I fell?”
He didn’t, but a week later he was hospitalized with back problems. It was there his life changed. A man in the bed next to his told Walt, “You’ve got something that everyone has, the right to make a choice that will determine what happens to you the rest of your life.”
After getting out of the hospital, a friend called about a man who had two businesses. He wondered if Walt would be interested in a sales job for a company that stored documents and other items for companies.
Years of dealing with people and their problems made the new job easy for Walt Larmee, When he returned the first day with two contracts in hand and asked about his commission, he was told there was no money to pay him. It was then a lawyer advised Walt to offer to buy the company and if his boss refused, the lawyer offered to grubstake Walt, so he could start his own company. The owner offered to sell Walt 80% of the company for $17,000. It might as well have been $17 million, because Walt and Kay, with two children in school didn’t have extra money.
An uncle came up with about four thousand dollars. Walt’s parents and friends delivered the rest and he bought controlling interest in the company.
Walt has turned the storefront operation into a thriving records storage company employing 14 people, including his son and daughter. The Papa John’s Pizza chain stores its records in a climate-controlled underground vault at the plant, on Bittersweet Road just off Bishop Lane, in Louisville. Jewish Hospital, Norton Hospital and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are among other clients.
Information Resources Inc. is also in the scanning business, but Walt says he can store a box of records for 30 years for what it costs his daughter to scan them into the system.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Larmee, “because companies only have to store records for 2 or 3 years, but we’re in the digital age.”
Retirement is far down the road for Walt Larmee. He loves going to work, “because I learn something everyday.”
He also likes going to the casino across the river in Indiana. “Mr. Lucky,” as he’s known, has won a new car and lots of money. He occasionally runs into his old football coach, Kenny Arnold. Walt and Kay recently moved into a new house overlooking the 18th green at Oxmoor Country Club. In addition to playing golf, Walt enjoys his three grandchildren. Looking back on the past 50 years, “I’ve been lucky,” said Larmee. But he’s never had a free lunch in his life.