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When Ronald Sher, 57, went to work for Elder Manufacturing Co. Inc. in 1959 he turned down more money elsewhere for what he thought would be rapid advancement. Thirty years later -- and after quitting twice -- Sher bought out Elder, together with his longtime colleague Joseph Mercurio and a small group of investors. He inherited a far different company from the one he joined fresh out of Washington University.
Started in 1916 by five St. Louisans, Elder Manufacturing was known nationally for its Mark Twain label classic kids clothing, clever promotions and easy-care fabrics.
In the '60s, Elder again hooked up with another (briefly) famous name, employing TV sitcom child star Johnny Whitaker of "Family Affair" to promote its boyswear line. In 1965, Elder introduced the first permanent-press boys' shirt under its "Press Gard" trademark.
Elder made a number of ill-fated decisions in the late '60s, prompting Sher to leave once from 1967-1971 and again in 1985, when the company was investing heavily in retail stores and opening factories in Costa Rica.
Since Sher became an owner in 1988, Elder has increased sales by 50 …