Ralph (Gene) Tolliver, founder of Gene’s Refrigeration, was born and raised in Naoma, WV. He worked cutting timber in exchange for a free ride to Cleveland and left home at the age of 17 on April 4, 1953 with only $10.00 that his father gave him. On the day he arrived in Cleveland, he immediately applied for employment at Ford, Chevy and GM. By stating he was 18 instead of 17, he successfully landed a job at GM. He found a room for $1.50 per week and frequently ate at Ann’s Diner on 58th and Detroit. After two weeks and with his first pay, he went to the Chevy dealer and bought his first car…a 1954 Chevy. He drove home to Naoma, WV and of course, all of his friends…and the girls…were in awe. He often held at least two jobs and during one of his second jobs (at Parma Community Hospital) he decided to study heating and cooling. After completing the mail-order courses, he purchased a pickup truck with a ladder rack and started working on refrigeration units in bars in Brunswick when he wasn’t working at the GM plant.
The general manager of skilled trades at the GM plant, Frank Novak, noticed Gene’s truck and “side job” and asked him to come into the skilled trades as a pipefitter. Gene attended Parma Community School for three hours, twice a week for three years and earned his journeyman’s license as a pipefitter. As a pipefitter on the line at GM, he was asked to take care of all the heating and cooling in all three GM plants. Gene developed many suggestions for the plant. The first being eliminating the 300 window air conditioner units and replacing them with two 200-ton rooftop units…both of which are still functioning at the GM plant to this day. Another idea was to capture the water that was used to cool the hundreds of spot welders and run it to a large fan cooler instead of just letting it run down the drains.
In 1959, Gene officially started Gene’s Refrigeration out of his home in Brunswick, OH and by 1961, he hired his first employee. The company and his family continued to grow and in 1975, he relocated his family to a house on Norwalk Road in Medina. By 1985, Gene had to build another building to house the business…choosing to build on his property right next to the house…our current location. Since then the building has had two additional add-ons to accommodate the growth of the business. One of the additions houses our in-house duct line so that we can custom fabricate the duct work in each home.
In 2010, Gene transferred ownership of the business to two of his four children, Keith Tolliver and Linda (Tolliver) Ankney. As a young boy, Keith would go out on calls with Gene…although he would have to stay and play in the truck while Gene ran the service call. Recently, Keith asked his dad to accompany him to a customer’s home. Upon arriving, Keith told Gene to stay in the truck and that he would be right back. Keith went to the customer’s door and returned shortly thereafter…he was only there to pick up a down payment on a new system installation. After returning to the truck, Gene, slightly disappointed, said to him “I didn’t get to go in.” to which Keith jokingly and happily replied “It’s payback dad for all those times I didn’t get to go in while riding with you.”
Keith and Linda still own the business and Gene still comes to the office every day. Always in the morning to get a cup of coffee and to chat with the employees…sometimes again throughout the day just to check on the operations. He is always involved and still has many ideas on ways to continually improve the business…albeit, “old-fashioned”, we still value his suggestions.
Over the years, the business has continued to grow and evolve…from refrigeration to heating, cooling, plumbing and electric. From small bars to all residential and some commercial. From repairs to installation and new construction. In 1984, Gene partnered with Carrier and Gene’s Refrigeration is a Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer to this day having earned the Carrier President’s Award in 2017 and 2018. The President’s Award is Carrier’s highest dealer honor that recognizes dealers who exemplify leadership and management, customer satisfaction, expertise, business growth and operational excellence.
However, some things will never change. You can still reach us at the same number from 1959…330-225-6650 and Gene has instilled his values into everyone one of us. Our customers come first because without you…the customer…this company would not have survived for 60 years. We have had many people pass through this company…some have retired from Gene’s Refrigeration after having been with us for 30+ years. We currently employ about 30-40 service technicians, installers, and office staff. We have a great team of managers and employees to ensure that everyone in the company as well as our customers are treated fairly.
As we prepare to celebrate our 60th “Diamond” Anniversary, we are excited to continue to grow, continue to provide the absolute best customer service when it comes to heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical, continue our involvement with the Medina and surrounding communities and continue the virtues that Gene has put in place.