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. In response to that request, he started Midwest Challenge.

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, for ministry purposes, 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 considered themselves blessed to have been a part of this business for so many years, they realized that the season had come for them to make some life changes.

In the fall of 2012, Ron and Marilyn passed the reigns along to Mike and Debbie Woodard.  This involved moving the business from its long time home in Bloomington, Minnesota to its new home in Baxter, Minnesota where it was to reside and bless folk through-out the United States and around the world for the next five years.

In the fall of 2017, Mike and Debbie found themselves ready to take on the world from a new and exciting angle.  This is where Larissa and Brandon come in.  Larissa had worked for Mike and Deb at their Christian Book Store in Baxter, Mn. When it was announced that Character Plus was to be sold, she felt the leading of The Spirit to pray, pray, pray.  After much prayer and leading, Larissa and Brandon purchased the Character Plus business and feel so blessed to be the next set of hands for our Lord to guide.


It is very unusual to have a gift item, in the original style, still being made after 40 years and by five different companies.  The plaques have become a tradition in many homes through two, three and even four generations!  Brandon and Larissa are so blessed to be able to continue this tradition of quality today!