Small Kearneysville company recognized for big donations - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Small Kearneysville company recognized for big donations

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Photo courtesy of Schonstedt Instrument Co. Photo courtesy of Schonstedt Instrument Co.
Photo courtesy of Schonstedt Instrument Co.: Schonstedt's magnetic locators are used in eastern Croatia. Photo courtesy of Schonstedt Instrument Co.: Schonstedt's magnetic locators are used in eastern Croatia.

There are days when Bob Ebberson and his co-workersat SchonstedtInstrument Co. must feel a little like David battling Goliath.

Small by any standards — there are just 25 employees in thecompany — Kearneysville-based Schonstedt is trying to make the world just alittle bit safer by donating hand-held magnetic locators to people in war-tornworld communities to help them find underground mines and unexploded ordnancethat could kill or maim unsuspecting children and adults as they walk, play orplow fields that look deceptively inviting.

But eight years and nearly 500 free magnetic locators later,they're learning an ugly truth: human nature being what it is, 500 isn't goingto be nearly enough.

"It makes the employees here feel particularly good aboutwhat we do here every day," said Ebberson, who is director of Schonstedt'sbusiness development as well as its Humanitarian Demining Mission, whichoperates in partnership with the United Nations.

"Everything we manufacture here is all American-made andwe're an employee-owned company," he said. "Everybody knows when they come towork in the morning they're literally helping save lives around the world."

The company, founded in 1953 by Erick O. Schonstedt,originally served the aerospace industry, outfitting more than 400 satellites,including the Hubble telescope, with magnetometers before switching its focusin the 1970s to fabricating and selling underground locators.

Their magnetic locators operate on the principle of magneticfluxgate. The fluxgate consists of two sensors separated by a fixed distanceand mechanically aligned. In the absence of a ferromagnetic material, theearth's magnetic flux is the same at both sensors so the fluxgate output is zero.When an object close to the bottom sensor alters the earth's magnetic flux dueto its own magnetic field, the balance of the gate is altered, producing ameasurable output.

Schonstedt's magnetic locators detect only ferrous metals,eliminating "false positives" caused by non-ferrous metals such as aluminum,brass and copper. The locators are accurate to a much greater depth than atraditional all-metal detector. Depending on its mass and orientation,Schonstedt's locator can detect a ferrous metal target to a depth of 30 feet.

"We'd been wondering what we could do by way of contributingto humanity, how we could do some good in the world as a company," Ebbersonsaid. "We're a small, 25-person manufacturing company. It's my job to find usnew markets, new applications, new ways to expand our business.

"We'd noticed some of ourequipment was being purchased to find unexploded ordnance — buried bombs,things that had been fired or launched or dropped from airplanes but failed todetonate and had worked their way into the ground and were a hazard to anybodywho came across them."

The company launched itsdemining program in 2007. Initially, every time a customer purchased one of itsunderground pipe and cable locators, Schonstedt donated a free demining tool inthe customer's name to a country where people risked life and limb by simplywalking through a field.

Schonstedt tweaked the program a few years later after asurveyor who had absolutely no need for an underground pipe and cable locatorheard about what the business was doing and wanted to help. The surveyor, aQuaker from New Jersey, had served in the Peace Corps and understood theneed for humanitarian demining.

"Now, for every magnetic locator donated to the U.N. MineAction Center, we match it, one-for-one," Ebberson said. "It's nolonger tied to sales in our other product line."

The surveyor, meanwhile, took the program back to hismeeting.

"Within a couple weeks, donations of over $10,000 came in,and that enabled us to ship 24 units or so," Ebberson said. "We've been rollingalong since then, with donations coming in from small businesses, individuals,professional organizations and churches."

To date, some 477 magnetic locators have been distributed toU.N.-supported deminers in 27 countries around the world — half paid for bydonations, half out of Schonstedt's pocket. At $1,041 a pop, that works out tojust about $250,000 in product given out courtesy of the 25 people on theSchonstedt payroll — an enormous commitment for the employee-owned company.

"It's a considerable contribution on our part, but we feelit's worthwhile," Ebberson said. "And one of the things that's attractive todonors is that we absorb the program costs so all donations go into the fieldwhere they're most needed; they find their way out into the field veryquickly."

He said the company generally waits until it has donations"for a dozen or so" locators, then ships them out to locales where the UnitedNations deems the need most urgent — a list that includes Somalia, Laos, Vietnam,Nepal, Egypt, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia,Montenegro, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Sudan (Darfur), Azerbaijan, Cambodia,Algeria, Gaza, Libya, Lebanon, Mali and Afghanistan.

The efforts haven't gone unnoticed: A Schonstedt deminingtool is on permanent display at the U.N., and another is now featured in arecently opened exhibition in the Visitor's Center at the U.N. headquarters inNew York City.

"If you go to the U.N.'swebsite,, it really is an eye opener," he said. "We don't knowthat much about it here; we don't have kids stepping onto a soccer field andgetting blown up or picking up a cluster bomb because they think it looks likea toy, like they do in other parts of the world.

"Seeing the pictures and reading the reports, that's whatkeeps us going. That was actually one of our motivators early on, that wewanted the program to be sustainable and not just a one-off donation. We wantedto be able to keep doing it on an ongoing basis. We're in our eighth year nowand we don't have any plans to wrap it up."

If anything, he said Schonstedt and its employee-owners arehoping to ramp up production, "but we don't get as many calls as we'd like,"Ebberson said.

"That's one of the reasons we're trying to get the word outmore broadly," he said. "We need to get more people involved, but it'sdifficult to do through a website or even through articles.

"Where we get results is when we have somebody standing infront of people, talking about how they can help — then we get a response."

And while the employees can feel good about the lives andlimbs they've already helped save, "we need to do more if we're really going tomeet the need worldwide," Ebberson insists.

"We simply wanted to find a way to do some good in theworld," he said. "This is our contribution to helping others.

"I don't want to get all highfaluting and invoke phraseslike ‘corporate responsibility' and that stuff; we don't see it like that atall. For us, it's just helping others."

Donations to "humanitarian demining" may be made to:
Woodstown Monthly Meeting, P.O. Box 13, Woodstown, NJ 08098 or by calling 800-999-8280.