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Humans of Manufacturing

‘On a Wing and a Prayer’

There’s More Standing Behind Alexis Schlemer’s Success than a Passion for Metalworking … There’s Her Family Too

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Two years ago, Lexy Schlemer took a chance and left her job as a paralegal to pursue a dream of opening a fabrication company. She wasn’t alone. Her parents Phil and Tina decided this would be a good time to close the doors on their decades-old auction business and join forces with their daughter. Sister Syd “Destructo” wanted in as well. With a small loan from her grandmother Sandy (who also jumped on board), the family invested in a CNC plasma table and opened the doors of Hess Van Schlemer Metalworks and Art in Edwardsville, IL.

Her family probably saw it coming. She’d long had an interest in steampunk, and had been channeling that energy in the garage over the past few years—cutting, welding, and painting metal sculptures and “random stuff” that she calls junk art—she once cranked out more than a hundred metal flowers to raise enough cash to see the Rolling Stones in concert.

“My parents had just taken the ultimate gamble, my grandma funded the plasma table, we began the transformation from auction center to welding fabrication shop and everyone thought we were either completely crazy or smart. Then Syd got sick and we were like, ‘Okay, now what do we do?’”
Lexy Schlemer

Then things got more serious. A local brewery heard about Schlemer’s metalwork and ordered a metal fire pit for their taproom. With her encouragement, going into business together seemed like a logical next step for all of them.

It wasn’t all about work, however. On weekends, the Schlemers continued to play together at clubs and bars in their “rockmetalbluesabilly” band, Candy Coated Evil, just as they’ve done since 2004. Lexy plays lead guitar. Syd’s on bass. Dad pounds away on the drums. Everyone sings. The band’s Facebook page calls them the “Evil Partridge Family.”

And then Syd got cancer. It wasn’t the first time. In 2012, she was treated for a tumor in the parotid gland. This time the cancer showed up in her thyroid. The now 27-year-old required surgery and radiation. “Everything changed overnight,” said Schlemer. “My parents had just taken the ultimate gamble, my grandma funded the plasma table, we began the transformation from auction center to welding fabrication shop and everyone thought we were either completely crazy or smart. Then Syd got sick and we were like, ‘Okay, now what do we do?’”

There was only one thing they could do: the Schlemers got to work. Lexy and her father welded. Syd programmed and operated the CNC machine, even as she underwent radiation therapy. Their mother took on the finishing work, while grandma helped wherever she could, packing and shipping and ordering material. Their first big break came a few weeks later, with an order for some shelving units from the brewery that had purchased the fire pit earlier that winter.

Unfortunately, another tumor was discovered a month later. “We were in the middle of a large production order when we got the news,” said Schlemer. “It was hard on all of us, but my sister and I work together, we play together…she’s like my other half. Her cancer really made us question our mortality.”

Starting a business is hard enough even when things go well, but by this time the family was swimming in medical bills. Under Syd’s direction, the Schlemers organized a benefit concert, an event that drew a “phenomenal response” from St. Louis bands such as Clownvis Presley, The Well Hungarians, and The Trip Daddys (and Candy Coated Evil, of course), as well as auction items donated by Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and others.

That’s when they received the next bit of news. Syd’s cancer was in full remission. “She texted all of us the next morning,” recalled Schlemer. “It said, ‘Hello Schlemer family, what are we gonna do with the rest of our lives?’”

The family business continues to thrive. Lexy and Phil, Tina, Sandy, and especially Syd are thankful for each new day, and look forward to working together for many years to come. At Hess Van Schlemer Metalworks and Art, life is good. “We’re just coming up on our two-year anniversary,” said Schlemer. “It was on a wing and a prayer from the beginning, but thanks to my family, everything is going great. We couldn’t have done this without each other.”

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