CEO of flag-making company had passion to save, grow family business
In 1990, widow Janice Christiansen had a tough choice to make.
Should she take over leading a family-run, foundering flag-making company? Or should she liquidate it, as its board of directors suggested?
"She had a passion to keep the business going. It was something she wanted to do," her son, Spencer Christiansen, said Monday of his mother, who died Friday at age 79.
"She ended up doing a pretty good job."
She was the chief executive officer of Batavia-based FlagSource, and, until 2021, also its president.
The company began as J.C. Schultz Co. in 2020 in Chicago, supplying banners for fraternal organizations, then adding state and U.S. flags. It moved to Northlake, then St. Charles.
Christiansen married into the business. Her husband, John, oversaw sales and marketing. They married in 1968, had two sons, and in 1975, Christiansen joined the outside sales team. The company branded itself as FlagSource in 1979.
John Christiansen transformed the company from being mainly a distributor to manufacturing products, including making branded flags and banners for businesses such as McDonald's. But he died unexpectedly in 1985.
Other relatives ran the company for several years. In 1990, Christiansen's mother-in-law asked her to step up to become president. Christiansen "went on the offensive," traveling to meet personally with vendors to come up with a strategy to grow FlagSource, Christiansen eventually became the chief executive officer.
Within five years, she rebuilt it. Achievements include installing the largest embroidery machine in the world to make the star fields for the U.S. flags, and in 2014, adding direct-to-fabric digital printers for other items.
The company moved to Batavia in 2005. In 2009, Christiansen became the first female chairman of the Illinois Manufacturing Association.
"She loved starting out with a raw material and making it into a product," Spencer Christiansen said. He is the company's president.
And she was especially proud that the U.S. flags the company makes are 100% made in the USA -- both materials and labor, he said.
Christiansen still consulted with her son about the business daily until a glioblastoma brain tumor interfered.
She was also an avid traveler with her partner of nearly 20 years, Bob Bonifas. She is listed as No. 36 in her age category on the website for Most Traveled People, having visited 231 places worldwide.
That included a trip to Antarctica, where her ship was stranded in a port at a remote research station on South Georgia Island for nearly two weeks. She also loved visiting East Africa, Spencer Christiansen said, seeing animals on photo safaris.
Besides Spencer, she is survived by her other son, Jon; three grandchildren; and a brother. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. April 15 at Little Home Church by the Wayside in Wayne.