Sun Valley resident gives new life to grand old flags
June 23, 2014
April Dison is restoring a flag. She's repaired tattered and weather-beaten flags for 27 years, flags from all over the world, for customers in all 50 states, from car dealers to private collectors.
This flag is different. It's an American flag. And it has few stars, just a baker's dozen.
"The oldest one I've worked on. It's from the 13 colonies," says Dison.
Dison will carefully weave and sew the historic banner back to its full glory, working as often as the fragile piece will allow.
"I try to take only a month, but sometimes it takes two," says 81-year-old Dison. "It's very delicate work. I can't do it every day."
Dison owns and operates Swift Flag Repair in Sun Valley. Since 1987, she's refurbished flags, mainly for businesses including the Mandalay Bay and MGM hotel casinos in Las Vegas, Herb Chambers Lexus of Sharon, Mass., and the NFL football team, the Buffalo Bills.
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"I do all of Westinghouse," Electric Corp., says Dison. "They send me two to three flags a week."
Much of the flag repair work is now done by two contract employees while Dison concentrates on the restoration of historic flags, a business she ventured into about seven years ago.
"I like history and I wanted to do it," says Dison. "My sister didn't restore old flags. She wanted nothing to do with it."
Dison's sister, Pamela Swift, launched the family business in Phoenix in 1972, and convinced Dison to get into it as a second career.
"She told me to do it when I retire from show business," says Dison.
Before Dison stitched seams she sang songs, working with several big band musicians, including trumpeter Harry James, who gave her singing group the name April Ames and the Dames.
"He introduced me as a singer and he didn't ask my permission," says Dison. "He leaned over and whispered 'It rhymes with James.' I loved the name."
Along the way, she traveled the world performing with the USO, worked on an early Johnny Carson show called Carson's Cellar and settled in Reno where she headlined at The Mapes Hotel for many years.
In 1979, she retired and lived with her sister in Phoenix for a year or so, learning the trade and craft, and returned to Reno to launch her own flag repair business.
"She was right," says Dison. "It's been great for my retirement."
Now, Dison is considering retiring again. She has three sons, all working in some area of the entertainment industry, none of whom are interested in taking over the flag repair business.
So she's in the process of trying to value the business and deciding whether to sell.
"It's sort of iffy. If I could get the right price and the person was willing to do it and train, I'd sell it," says Dison.
Dison says she has work booked through October, takes November and December off, and may decide then. But she's reluctant to let go.
"I'm sort of hesitant," says Dison. "I love doing it."