Chuck York: ‘Captain Condom’ has left his signature across the world
Portrait 2011 — Volume 1: Leaving a legacy
Chuck York has left his mark on bathroom walls around the world.
Right there between the haphazardly placed microbrew sticker and the phone number of a sure thing hangs a metal condom dispenser — and chances are pretty good that York put it there.
York, who claims the nickname “Captain Condom,” is proud of the mark his business, C & G Manufacturing, has left on the world.
“It’s my legacy, really,” York said from his home on Little Park Road while watching a couple of collared lizards lounge in his sun. “I helped millions of people stay healthy.”
York started selling condom vending machines in West Vail in 1986, just after the first HIV and AIDS cases shook the world. The idea to place the machines in the ski resort restrooms belonged to York’s pal, Louie Pintowski.
York was a working ski bum, having just spent a year testing and helping design ski boots in Europe, and was selling ski equipment to the resorts.
“This was when the first AIDS scare was coming out and he thought we should start spreading these machines around the ski areas. It was his 13th business,” York explained.
Pretty soon, customers at bars and other social venues started asking for the machines, and the business spread nationally.
“People wanted to do something to protect themselves,” York said.
Four years later, York purchased the business with his wife, Gacia Sienz, and moved the business to Grand Junction. Together they concentrated on selling machines to college campuses.
“We put machines on college campuses in every state from coast to coast, even right here at Mesa,” York said.
That’s when the business really reached a new level.
They had the rather simple mechanical parts of the machine manufactured in Denver and shipped to a warehouse in Clifton, where they were assembled.
“We were doing a half a million in business at the height of it,” York said.
Some of the machines York sold dispensed other items too, such as aspirin and feminine hygiene products.
There seemed no end to the possibilities of vending locations. York sold machines to convenience stores, military bases, restaurants, theaters, laundromats and bowling alleys.
“I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many we sold,” York said. “But, I can tell you I’ve sold more machines to more countries and prevented more HIV cases than anybody in the world.”
Knowing that the virus was spreading rapidly in Africa, York began concentrating on finding ways to install vending machines in international locations.
He partnered with Don Johnson, a Peace Corps volunteer, to install condom machines in bars and restaurants across Niger, West Africa. In less than a year, the machines sold 66,000 condoms in a place where alcohol, illiteracy and prostitution were rampant.
“If it had not been for Chuck York of C & G Manufacturing, we would not have been successful. Chuck always believed in us — and not because it was in his business interest, he simply and genuinely was supportive,” Johnson wrote in a letter to York.
This project also was honored by the White House at the Peace Corps World Aids Day event that took place in December 2001.
“It is this kind of public-private partnership between the Peace Corps and businessmen like Chuck York of C & G Manufacturing of Grand Junction, Colo., that has the potential to change and improve the way we fight this disease,” said Scott Evertz, director of the White House office of national AIDS policy in his address at the event.
Indeed, York deserves credit for helping prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies across the globe. In the late 1990s, York sold 600 machines that were installed in Moscow alone.
Over the years he’s partnered with Planned Parenthood International and Luxemburg Development Corporation in Europe as well as Un Population Services International, BemFam and Aprota, which provide birth control services in South American countries.
“That makes me feel wonderful. I don’t do it for the money. I do it to save lives and it gives me lots of satisfaction — lots of satisfaction,” York said.
Although his business has started to wind down in recent years due to his health, York said he won’t stop fighting to prevent the spread of HIV.
He’s working with the United Nations to install more machines internationally. He now assembles the machines from home.
“We can’t stop because there are so many places that still need our help,” he said.