Our Story

 The Lord’s hand on Character Plus is evident in history.

It began in the early 70’s when the Mayor of Minneapolis asked Minneapolis policeman, Al Palmquist, to start a rehabilitation program for drug addicts, and Midwest Challenge was born. The book, What’s in a name?, published by ARK Products, explains that  “Early in 1974, Midwest Challenge began to investigate new areas of production and vocational training for the young people in its program. John Hartzell, an assistant director for Midwest, proposed making something different in the way of decorative name plaques. They were to be unique, personalized, and scriptural…Midwest Challenge organized a new company called ARK Products in order to manufacture and distribute them.”  In the early 1980’s, Ark Products was purchased from Midwest Challenge by its manager, Chuck Hetland, who continued to produce the plaques. Midwest Challenge continues as an effective ministry in the Twin Cities area to this day.

Marilyn Ford started working for Ark Products in 1979. In 1989 she and her husband, Ron, purchased the name product line when Chuck decided to change his business direction. The Fords adopted the name “Character Plus”. The plaques were also produced for a short time in the 1990’s by “Inspirational Products.” 

For about 24 years Ron and Marilyn worked as the sole labor force producing the plaques.  It was always their prayer that each plaque would be a blessing in the life of the person or family whose name appeared on the front of the plaque.  Although Ron and Marilyn were blessed to be part of this business for so many years, eventually they realized it was time to  make some life changes and began exploring options.

In the fall of 2012, Ron and Marilyn passed the reigns along to Mike and Deb Woodard.  This involved relocating the business to Brainerd, Minnesota, adding a website, and expanding operations to include laser-engraved products-- a refreshing new twist on the original design. The next five years saw lots of change and growth as an entirely new market was exposed to these unique and personal gifts. It's unusual to have a gift item, in the original style, still being made after 40 years, yet the original Character Plus plaques are a long-standing tradition in many homes through two, three and even four generations!  


Seasons pass, and by late 2017 Mike and Deb were led to move in a new direction and handed operations to a capable longtime employee and her husband.  Sadly, by 2019 serious life changes forced Larissa and Brandon to cease operations.  Mike and Deb (now living out of state) came back to pick up the pieces and began preparations to relocate the business.  Operations are currently "on-hold" as they wait on God's leading for the next steps.  Your prayers are appreciated for future decisions!