By Northeast News

For 57 years, ADCO Litho Plate has fulfilled Kansas City’s printing needs, operating out of its shop at 6043 E Truman Rd. Owner Theresa “Terry” Cunningham is proud to continue her family legacy. In 1971, Cunningham was handed her father’s business, ADCO Litho Plate, at the age of 18.

After suffering a major coronary, her father, Chester Banks, was told by doctors he couldn’t continue the business, but he refused to shut down, handing it over to Cunningham, a recent high school graduate, and her mother, Paulette.

“I owe too many people too much money,” Cunningham remembers her father saying. “I’m not going to take bankruptcy. You girls are going to run it.”

As young as Cunningham was at the time, she was no novice in the print industry. She had been working in the shop after school and during the summers since she was around 14 years old, just another in a long list of activities she and her sister had enjoyed with their father. Despite her youth, Cunningham’s father had faith that she could take over the business.

“My dad didn’t have any sons, so we did everything that he would do with a boy,” Cunningham recalled. “We learned how to shoot a bow and arrow, learned how to shoot a gun, we went fishing, he taught us how to play baseball, football, basketball; he was a man before his time, actually. He always said, ‘You can do whatever you think you can do.’”

Chester’s confidence steeled Cunningham and her mother for the task, and they succeeded in the business, working together side-by-side for decades. Paulette lived to be 92 years old, working at ADCO Litho Plate until she was 80.

The story of how Chester started the business reaches back to WWII and across the Atlantic to Europe, when he served in the US Army. Chester met Paulette in Paris during the war and learned fluent French to be able to court her. After the war, the couple married and remained in Paris to celebrate.

Paulette’s brother was a printer and took Chester to work with him one day, taking him up on the scaffolding of a printer to show him the process of printing large-scale military maps.

“He became enthralled,” Cunningham said.

After a year in Paris, the couple returned to the United States and settled in Marshall, Mo., where Chester decided he wanted to become a printer. Through the GI Bill, he was able to take classes during the day and drive taxis at night to provide for him and his new bride.

Eventually, they moved to Kansas City and in 1967 he decided to start his own business as a lithographer. ADCO expanded into printing when he saw the overflow of printing needs, taking on large local clients such as Sears, Montgomery Wards and Safeway. 

When asked what she would say to a new generation of women coming into their own business and facing the same challenges she did nearly 50 years ago, Cunningham said she would advise them to do business the old-fashioned way: in person. 

“These days, you get no personal contact to get to know a person,” she said. “You get an email or a voicemail. You cannot build that kind of business relationship with the method that we communicate with our customers today. If you can get face-to-face with them and become personal with them, I think a woman has a much better chance of maybe acquiring the business than over the phone or on an email because they don’t get to know you.”

ADCO Litho Plate owner Theresa “Cunningham” Cunningham beside Heidelberg windmill press. 

As if the hurdle of being a female business owner in a male-dominated business world wasn’t difficult enough, especially in 1971, Cunningham said she also had to continue to adjust to changes in printing, namely “going digital.” 

As the printing process moved from a manual task that took hours to set up, to nearly completely digital, she got rid of her presses. The only press Cunningham owns today is an old Heidelberg windmill press, still in working condition, but sits unused beneath a large tarp. Uncovering it and turning it on, the motor hums, the flywheel spins, and the two arms rotate in a fluid motion — the grippers empty. 

While her Heidelberg will remain covered in a nearly empty warehouse, Cunningham said she is still hopeful for the future.

“As long as I’m here, I will be printing. I’m the best-kept secret of the Northeast.” 

ADCO Litho Plate at 6043 E Truman Rd., specializes in printing wedding invitations, brochures, business cards, carbonless forms, envelopes, fliers, labels, letterhead, banners and signs.  Specialty advertising products include pens, magnets, signs, notebooks, coffee cups, can Koozies, flash drives, hats, tents and tablecloths. The certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE) also offers binding, graphic design, layout, and other services.

For inquiries, stop by the shop Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., call (816) 241-2754, or email