When working at her Tip Top Cleaners drycleaning plant in Chambersburg, PA, Donna Boyd likes to keep things simple while dealing with customers.
“We do what we can do to make things easier and better for people,” she explained.
Boyd has been with the company for almost 30 years, the last 18 of which she has worked as an owner who enjoys preserving the look and feel of the same cleaning business that originally opened on location in 1948.
“We still have the old cash register that you punch in the buttons and pull the lever to open up the drawer,” she
Donna might be aptly described as a bit old fashioned. She owns a computer, but, as she likes to say, she doesn’t like it much and it doesn’t like her. She also does not feel a need to watch much TV at home on her farm.
Certainly, her Tip Top business has seen some updated improvements under her leadership, such as adding a laundry facility with shirt equipment, but, for the most part, she has consciously tried to help it retain its historical charm.
“I have the original washer, which is a 100-lb. Washex, and the original dryer, which is a 100-lb. American Zone Air, and we use them both every day. They were the original equipment installed here in 1948,” she noted. “I have been told by repairmen and salesmen who service different equipment and supply different detergents and what-not that these machines that I have will out-clean any of the newer equipment.”
She’ll keep running the same machinery as long as it performs well enough to meet the standards of her customers who seem to really enjoy the consistency and stability of Tip Top.
“A lot of our customers have been coming here since they were children,” she added. “Of course, their children and grandchildren are coming now. We get compliments like, ‘It still looks the same!’ Or, ‘I knew when I came back to town, Tip Top would still be the same.’ That sort of makes it worthwhile.”
Donna was born in Chambersburg only three years before Tip Top first opened. However, while growing up she was much more adept at accumulating stains rather than removing them. She spent much of her formative years working on a family farm.
While her father drove a truck for local deliveries, Donna and her mother tirelessly bailed hay and milked as many as 25 cows day and night on their hundred-acre property.
“We handled as many as 1,100 bales of hay in five days. It strengthens you up,” she recalled.
In her spare time, she rode horses. She was skilled enough to earn her share of trophies and ribbons at riding shows. Her favorite competitions were the game events.
“A lot of them are timed events, like the egg and spoon. That’s just what is suggests. You carry an egg in a spoon and go around the ring as quickly as you can,” she said. “Another is the keyhole race. They put a keyhole on the ground with flour or lime. You get your horse to go in and turn around without stepping outside of the keyhole, then come out. One of my favorites was always the shovel race where you had someone sit on a shovel and you had a rope tying it to your saddle horn and you would take them around the ring just as quickly as you could. That was fun—dangerous—but fun.”
Her worst fall came during a keyhole race when she was 20 years old.
“The horse I was riding at the time had no desire to go in the keyhole, so he bucked me off and I broke my collarbone. The doctor said it would take eight weeks to heal. At the end of five weeks, I removed the cast,” she laughed.
Naturally, she got back on the horse again. She’s very comfortable holding the reins. She’s no different as a business owner, though the journey did take some time. She had to work her way up from the bottom.
She was originally hired by Town Cleaners in Shippensburg to work at the counter checking in clothes. Then she briefly tried her hand at factory work and decided it was too monotonous so she applied at every cleaner near her hometown. Fortunately, she was hired by Tip Top for an assembly position.
She worked at counter assembly for nine years and then in pressing, spotting and cleaning for another two before she and her husband Gary took advantage of an opportunity to buy the plant from its retiring owners almost two decades ago.
She and her husband proved to be excellent partners in and out of the business until he passed away three years ago. Now, Donna is proud that both of her daughters, Kelly and Terry, help keep the business running strong.
It also doesn’t hurt that most of her employees have been with Tip Top for a significant amount of time and are willing and able to go above and beyond the call of duty when necessary. In fact, Donna believes in constant training all across the board.
“Training is always ongoing and many of my employees are also cross-trained,” she said. “They can do multiple jobs in here. They are willing to learn.”
When she isn’t making sure her employees are seeing eye to eye with customers, Donna spends a lot of her spare time training puppies who are (sometimes) willing to learn as part of the 4-H’s Seeing Eye program. She has been a Franklin County Club leader for the organization since the mid-1980s.
“There was a little blurb in the 4-H newsletter that anybody interested in raising seeing eye puppies should contact the extension office,” she recalled. “Kelly and I both had extremely poor vision and thought that possibly someday we would need a guide dog.”
Fortunately, both women have had successful Lasik surgery since, but the vision problems did help lead them in a positive direction. Since starting, Kelly has trained 23 puppies; Donna is now on her 26th. It would be more, but the program only allows for each person to train one puppy at a time.
“You get them when they are about 7 weeks old and you have them until they are about 14 months old,” she said. “All we do is basic training. We start them with the house training, obviously. We just make them into good family dogs. Teach them to stay off the furniture. Don’t feed them people food so they don’t beg. Teach them basic commands: come, sit, down, rest, forward. Just socialize them and expose them so they are not startled or upset by new situations.”
The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog program in the country. It started back in 1929 and has helped train more that 15,500 dogs bring a new level of mobility, security and self-sufficiency to over 8,000 men and women. Most of the dogs in the program are Labradors, Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds.
“They’re all working breeds of dogs,” she emphasized. “They are not nose dogs, which means they don’t want to be sniffing the ground all the time. They are the right size so that they can control a person. If they need to stop or start a person, they can do that. Basically, they have a super temperament or personality and they have the right speed to walk with blind people. Blind people actually walk faster than sighted people.”
Donna, who has owned at least one dog as a pet ever since she was born, currently has custody of three of the Seeing Eye puppies she formerly trained. She was offered them back when they did not successfully complete the program.
“Seeing Eye figures that about 67 percent of their puppies go on to become guide dogs,” she said. “I have a pretty good average. I fall right into that category.”
These days, Donna’s 26th dog has proven to be quite a handful during the training process.
“I’m raising Navy and, oh my, he’s a wild—he’s not wild—but he’s very intelligent, very active and he needs things to do which sometimes involves destroying things. He got my driver’s license,” she laughed.
When the time comes, she’ll know it will be emotionally difficult to part with him, just like all of the others. However, it will be necessary for the dog to be formally trained with a harness for four months.
After that, the dogs work with a blind person for about a month under the supervision of an instructor before they are able to become full-fledged guide dogs.
Whether or not Navy graduates, however, there is no doubt that Donna will be training number 27.
“You know that when you get this puppy, they are going to go back. When I send one back, I have to have a new one come to the house,” she said. “People say it’s difficult [to part with them], but if that person ever has had a one-way trip to the vet with one of their dogs, sending one back to the Seeing Eye is not nearly as difficult as that.”
Donna takes solace in the fact that most of the dogs she trains will go on to lead rich, productive lives.
“To see that is so rewarding, you just cannot imagine,” she said. “I mean, if you’ve experienced it, it just makes you feel so good that this ornery little puppy that you raised is actually responsible for this person and going to lead a useful life and that dog is going to be loved as much by their person as we love them. That is what makes it worthwhile.”