In January at the annual Purdue Pest Management Conference, the Indiana Pest Management Association posthoumosly honored Jim and Phyllis Hanstra with the Hall of Fame award. Philip and Andrea accepted the award and Philip shared about Jim and Phyllis’s life.
I’ve never met James Hanstra, and neither have most of you. Yet the work he started decades ago at Reliable Exterminators created a lasting impact in my life, our community and our industry. Everything I know about the man comes from my relationship with his wife Phyllis Hanstra who is also being honored today.
Jim was born in 1932 in Lafayette, and graduated from Jefferson High School. He joined the army during the Korean war and was stationed in Ft Richard in Anchorage, Alaska. Before he joined the army, he had been working at Reliable for his Uncle Charlie Parlow, the founder of Reliable Exterminators. He had also just met his future wife before he was called to serve his country and sent to Alaska. Phyliss Sietsma, age 19, knew that Jim was the man for her, and after he proposed, flew to Alaska so they could be married in 1950.
After returning to Lafayette in 1957, Jim picked up his work again with Uncle Charlie as the manager of Reliable. Eventually in 1971 Jim and Phyllis purchased the business from Charlie and became owners of Reliable Exterminators. Jim was a big advocate for professionalism in our industry, and first served as the IPMA president in 1977, as well as being a member of the board of the National Pest Control Association. Phyllis was also involved at the start of the Professional Women in Pest Management (PWIPM) in the late 1980s. Jim and Phyllis worked together to network with others in the industry, and advocated for regulation, education and ethics in pest control. The relationships they made with other active members of the Indiana Pest Management Association helped them to better guide their business and serve their customers.
At Reliable, Phyllis ran the office and Jim ran the technicians. The business was successful under their leadership and Jim took time to be on various community boards as an engaged citizen of Greater Lafayette. While serving a second term as president of the IPMA in 1982, he unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 50. Phyllis was then faced with a choice. She was unsure if she could run the business herself even with the help of her son Bob who had a few years of experience at this time. But with the grace of God and some encouraging words from Dr. Gary Bennett at Purdue and his technical expertise available, she decided to keep the business going.
It was the right choice and with hard work and the support of the IPMA she spent the next 45 years at Reliable helping to solve problems for people in her community. She said that keeping the business going was her way of keeping Jim’s legacy alive. She had lost her husband, but still had their business to care for and the people in the Lafayette community to serve. Phyllis and Bob ran the business together until 2011 when she retired. She spent the last year of work training her replacement, Andrea (Hanstra) Patrie. After retirement, she spent the next few years donating her time to drive people to doctor’s appointments and care for the needs of others. Once Phyllis explained why she kept working into her 70s when she could have retired sooner. She said, “when a customer calls, upset about bugs in their house, first they just need someone to listen to them. Only then can you solve the bug problem. Listening to our customer doesn’t always look like pest control, but by listening and performing these services, we provide solutions for problems, and those solutions are what provides for our families. The way we talk to and treat our customers is one of the most visible signs that we are the company with which to do business.” Phyllis died in 2017 at the age of 84. To those she left behind it was clear that she had carried the legacy of Jim Hanstra to another generation. Together they achieved success in business, family and community.
I am very proud to present this Hall of Fame award from the IPMA to honor Jim and Phyllis Hanstra, to be accepted by their granddaughter Andrea, current president of Reliable Exterminators. It will be displayed with pride at our office as we continue to carry on the business to which these two remarkable people devoted their lives.
Philip Patrie, 1/10/2023