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Joe Simons, standing by the shuttle bus he drives, has worked for Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge in some capacity for 58 years. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Who's been at their job the longest?

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

With a fluctuating economy, jobs come and go. So do people. But what makes someone want to stay with the same employer for years and years? What's the secret to longevity?

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The Brainerd Dispatch asked our readers "Who's had their job the longest?" and they answered. The secrets are out. These longtime employees have shared the reasons why they still love what they do after all these years.

Joe Simons of Crosby is a 58-year employee of Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge. He started when he was 13 years old which he says was "about 60 years ago."

Simons worked as a busboy, golf shop manager, golf starter, golf ranger, worked on the driving range and now drives a shuttle bus at the resort. He's also driven the pontoon for trips on Bay Lake.

Of the 60 years, Simons worked all but two at Ruttger's. One summer he worked the sugar beet fields around Moorhead and the other summer he began working on his master's degree.

Simons said his favorite thing about working at Ruttger's has been the friendly atmosphere of both staff and guests, meeting new people and "beautiful Bay Lake."

Simons' secret to his longevity, he said, is hard to explain.

"Ruttger's is a special place. Our kids grew up there. There's something that keeps drawing people back, not only us, but many longtime guests and employees. We just feel a part of the place," Simons said.

The "we" Simons refers to is his wife, Sharon, and their three children, who have all worked at Ruttger's. Sharon has worked there 40 years.

"She started in a small gift shop and it also served as the golf shop for years. She developed the Country Store and The Garage and Auntie M's coffee shop and also a gift shop in the main building. She also helped in developing Oktoberfest at Ruttger's," Simons said.

And why not encourage the whole family to work there? Simons said the Ruttgers are great to work for and that Jack Ruttger has been his mentor.

"As a fatherless 13-year-old boy, I admired Jack. He was someone I looked up to and wanted to be like. He was always there for me when I needed to talk or had a problem. He included me in things like waterskiing, golf and basketball. I admired his values and the way he lived his life," Simons said.

Simons isn't alone in having a long-term relationship with his job. The lakes area has a variety of employees who dedicate large portions of their lives to a single employer. Here are a few of their stories.

Family-friendly place to work

"I have worked at the Farmers & Merchants State Bank in Pierz since Aug. 8, 1966, right after high school graduation. During this time I was married twice, raised three boys and have had four grandchildren. The bank has always been a family-friendly place to work. During these almost 48 years, I have worked with many people and have developed many friends." - Marilyn Welcome, personal banking officer.

'I love my job'

Connie Gretschmann is the administrative secretary at Riverwood Healthcare Center in Aitkin. She has been employed there for 46 years.

"I love my job and I feel I am good at it. Some days are more challenging than others, but at the end of the day, I still love working at Riverwood Healthcare Center. I have lived in Aitkin all my life and have never had the desire to leave. All of the people I interact with in relation to my work are a second family to me," said Gretschmann.

Secret to longevity carries many reasons

"I was hired as the program director of the Dental Assisting program at the age of 20. I retired in December of 2012 but returned January 2013 as a temporary part-time teacher. After December 2012, my new title became instructor.

My secret to my longevity includes a variety of reasons. The first being working with students in a stimulating and rewarding profession. The second would be working with the Brainerd lakes area dental community along with dental professionals throughout the state. And the third would be being able to work with the people at Central Lake College." - Le Ann Schoenle, employed at Central Lakes College since August 1975.

Hardy can find the unfindable

The Brainerd Public Library nominated Sue Hardy, who has been employed there since 1976. Sue is one of the main librarians at the front desk. She is one of the first people you see when you walk into the library. Her expertise of the library is one of her most valued assets to our community. She is there to quickly help you find your next favorite book or find out what the location of that nonfiction book is that you are looking for. Not only does she help check books in and out, she also works to keep the library's fiction and large print sections in the best condition they can be. Sue scours to find the best titles and works to keep the shelves pristine.

Sue has also been our longtime gatekeeper of our statistical information. She makes sure we are able to compare all aspects of the library's usage which is no easy task with the library's high usage, programming and circulation.

Sue is also our go-to person for finding a lost book in the library. She has an uncanny knack for finding the un-findable.

When asked the secret to her longevity, Sue gave three reasons.

"No two days are alike. I really enjoy seeing old familiar faces and new ones, too. Answering questions for homework assignments or general knowledge make the days go by so quickly."

Wouldn't change careers for anything

"I started working at North Memorial Hospital July 22, 1968, the same year I graduated from high school. I worked as an orderly on the floor until Dec. 29, 1968, when I transfered into the ambulance department. I've been a paramedic for North since, full time, 46 years on July 22, 2014. I liked healthcare and back in the 60s, everyone was going to do something to better humanity. I realized you can't make a living in the Peace Corps, so I went to work in a hospital. Healthcare turned out to be a good career. Besides, I became accustomed to eating and sleeping with a roof over my head.

A job description could be difficult. You call 911 and we come running. We see everything under the sun and then some; things man should not see. After so many years, we do get a twisted view of life but I wouldn't change my career for anything." - Tim Guntzel, Crosslake.

Three months of vacation time

"I have been employed by the Walgreen Company since January 1973 and I'm the store manager at the Brainerd Walgreens. I started with Walgreens following graduation from high school. I did have one other job prior in high school at North Memorial Hospital as a nurse's aide. So 41-and-a-half years later, I'm still enjoying my career and look forward to each day being different, meeting new people and helping others get and stay well.

I do have enough vacation time to almost take three months off; of course I would never be gone that long but it's there." - Liz Holt.

54 years dedicated to nursery industry

"I moved to Minnesota in 2012, buying a home on Lake Mille Lacs. I was employed by Sherman Nursery in Charles City, Iowa, for 54 years from 1955 to 2009. I was hired as credit manager, working my way up to become president in 1984. Our company served garden centers, landscapers and other nursery people throughout the USA and Canada with green, growing plants.

My secret to longevity was loving my work and wanting to contribute to the nursery industry." - Dale Siems, Isle.

Co-workers are best friends

"I wanted to let you know about my job and why I have stayed on for 42-plus years. I was a mere 19 years old when I was hired by Dr. Douglas Johnson (owner of Northern Eye Center) on Jan. 2, 1972. Over the years, I have continued working at NEC and have had many 'bosses,' including Dr. Johnson, Dr. John Weaver, Dr. John Moran and most recently, Dr. David Sabir.

I was hired as a medical secretary, what I had trained for at Brainerd Vocational Technical School, and eventually worked up to the clinic administrator which is my title now.

My secret to longevity is probably that I have always felt my co-workers were my best friends. We see each other through our happy and troubled times and I don't know of one who wouldn't do whatever they could to help a co-worker out. I feel fortunate that my employers have always felt I have something of value to offer to our company." - Deb Smith.

Close to the back door

"I am currently the executive assistant to the Chief Operating Officer and St. Joseph's Foundation. On a day-to-day basis I wear both hats and many times shift from one job to the other. Both my jobs are very interesting with lots of variety.

I started at St. Joseph's Medical Center (SJMC) in 1970. I was attending Brainerd Vocational and Technical School in the clerical class. We were about to graduate and had to send an actual resume somewhere to get a final grade. I met a friend in the class who worked part-time in admitting at the hospital so I thought, 'I will send it to St. Joseph's.' Little did I know they were looking for someone with clerical skills that could start right away. They hired me at my interview and I started on May 16, 1970 - that was 44-plus years ago. That friend in my class ended up being my sister-in-law.

I started in the hospital business office running the NCR bookkeeping machine - manually entering all patient charges. That involved weekends so after a couple years there was an opening in Fiscal Services (no weekends) so I applied and was hired as an Accounts Payable Clerk. After that I worked in many positions that kind of evolved as SJMC continued to change and grow.

That is how I got to my current position. One of my positions included secretary to the Chief Financial Officer. Back then I typed (yes, with a typewriter) the monthly financial statements with messy carbon paper between the copies. It was a little tougher making a correction then it is now - we went through lots of white out. I remember when we got our first computers (if you can call them that) with dot matrix printers - that was progress. That was probably about the same time we got air conditioning in the hospital.

My favorite person to work for was Sister Vivian Arts, who was senior vice president. I will remember her always. I started working here when they were just beginning to tear down the old part of the hospital. We used to have eight-plus sisters working here and we would see them walking down the old halls with their floor-length black traditional habits with just their faces showing - no matter how hot it was.

St. Joseph's is a great place to work and a place to meet some wonderful people. I have seen many changes including physical changes in the building(s) and surroundings, new and wonderful equipment and technology for the patients and staff, growth that has no end and staff and providers with compassion. My daughter works here and my grandson just started volunteering so this place is in our blood. I have joked that I am as close to the back door as I can get. I was born at this hospital, have worked here the majority of my life, and may even die at my desk - but I love it." - DelRae Grams, 44 years, St. Joseph's Medical Center, administration.

A humbled employee

"I get more emotional every year in thinking about all my years here and how much my job here has meant to me in so many ways. When I started, 'Ardy' was started as a nickname to Ardyce and that's how all those wonderful patients I've checked in over the years know me, along with co-workers. My first day of employment here was Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1970, which was the day after Labor Day, so that's always been significant to me. I was hired the Thursday before and was hired at the end of the interview and my boss told me to promise to stay at least 10 years, and now it's 43 years.

I worked in the main lobby registration for 39 years (some of those earlier years were in the emergency department registration) and currently for the last four and-a-half years I work registration in the cancer and infusion center on fifth floor. I've always been full-time.

Here's the secret to my longevity: I knew in junior high school that I wanted to work in the medical field and probably in some clerical area. So that became true when I was hired, and on my very first day I was so happy to be coming to work at St. Joseph's Hospital, and I thought, 'I was hired and I now owe my employer something - to always do my job the best I can, always being open to all the changes, like from typewriters to computers, lots of classes, etc.'

I wanted longevity - to be loyal and dedicated to one employer - and really that was made possible by everything my employer has been to me - from St. Joseph's Hospital to Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center. I am here for 43 years because of this organization and I am so thankful for that and don't take it for granted that I have this job and I truly appreciate everything here.

Also, I'm happy that when hired as an admitting clerk, now titled registration clerk, that I remained in the same department from hire date. I had several opportunities over the years to work in other areas in the hospital and actually set up an interview once, but backed out after thinking about the fact that I just need to see those patients and help them in any way I can in this registration clerk role, to be that front desk person that they first see and help them through their first few minutes of their appointments. I know I would really miss them, so I am glad to have not only been with one great employer for many years, but to also have stayed in the same department.

This really humbles me, and I get quite emotional thinking about my career here." - Ardyce Maier, 43 years, St. Joseph's Medical Center, patient registration.

Co-workers became part of her life

"I moved to Brainerd from the cities in January 1971, when my husband got a job at the state hospital. I had been working full time at North Memorial in the ICU/CCU and I really wanted to work and meet people in this new town. I was pregnant with my firstborn so the Nursing Director, Sister Armella, wouldn't consider hiring me at that time since she wanted me to take care of myself and my baby. St. Joseph's Hospital was building its first ICCU that would open Sept. 1, 1971, so they were interested in getting someone with a little experience. I never had an official interview. So after my daughter was born, I started on June 12, 1971.

I am a registered nurse in endoscopy. In this department we do endoscopy, colonoscopy, bronchoscopy, ERCP, pill cams, feeding tubes, and pH monitoring with a bravo device. My job involves admitting/discharging, monitoring and documenting during the procedure or assisting the gastroenterologist during the procedure.

As an admit/discharge nurse I review history and medications, explain the procedure and post procedure instructions, and answer questions about the procedure. I will start an intravenous site for sedation during the procedure and obtain vital signs for a baseline. At discharge, I will assure that the doctor's recommendations are understood and questions answered, I will assure that the patient meets criteria for discharge. As the nurse in the procedure room, I do all the procedure documentation, monitor vital signs, assist in the obtaining of specimens and special equipment.

With each role I am able to converse with the patients and answer questions. Hopefully this minimizes their fear of the unknown. I have worked in the endoscopy department for the past year.

Prior to that I worked over nine years in surgery recovery and surgery admitting. I worked in the intensive cardiac care unit (ICCU) for over 32 years, five of those being the nurse manager. The total is 43 years. It's passed very quickly. Seems like yesterday. I wanted to work at the hospital because I like hospital nursing and acute care. St. Joseph's was a convenient location. The people were friendly.

What I didn't know when I started was how my co-workers would become part of my life. There are at least a dozen of those people that I worked with in the 1970s that are still close friends. We have been together for weddings, births and raising children. We have laughed and cried together. Who could leave? Another reason I have enjoyed my job for so long is that early on I knew that I needed to embrace change. In medicine nothing stays the same. New drugs, new equipment, new standard, new procedures and always a new way to do the same job. I try to enjoy the people every day." - Bonnie Brandon, 43 years, St. Joseph's Medical Center, nurse.

Sees babies born every day

Patti (Patricia) Baillif was hired in August 1972 at St. Joseph's Medical Center. She is currently a registered nurse for Family Birthplace and Pediatrics.

Patti said, "I have always taken care of children. I initially started on a medical floor/pediatrics. Then years later we combined our Family Birthplace and Pediatric units and I've been there ever since. Now I not only see babies being born every day, but I see the babies I took care of years ago having babies. I haven't been at the hospital the longest, but I have worked the most hours as a nurse. - Patti (Patricia) Baillif, 41 years, St. Joseph's Medical Center - nurse for pediatrics and Family Birthplace.

Camaraderie is phenomenal

"My start date was Aug. 23, 1973. I scan internal records, death certificates, cremations, health care directives, guardianships. Sort and distribute mail, answer phones. I was an LPN for 20 years then had back surgery and couldn't lift anymore. I started out on second floor, then to Obstetrics and was one of the crew when the Focus Unit opened, then back to third medical, pharmacy one year and Health Information Services since then.

I believe I've stayed because I love my work and because the camaraderie and caring with co-workers is phenomenal. It's like a family. I've made some very special friendships in my almost 41 years here." - Annie Vandervest, 40 years, St. Joseph's Medical Center - LPN & Health Information Services

Works for the best boss

Jon Belcher is manager at Mar-Jons Sportswear in the Westgate Mall, Brainerd. He has been employed there nearly 29 years. "I truly believe that working in one place for over 15 years is quite the accomplishment. With me being in the mall, it's truly staggering the amount of store managers I've seen come and go," Jon said.

The secret to his longevity? Jon said, "Working for the best boss I could have - my father and Mar-Jons owner Clem - and having the ability to put up with Green Bay Packer fans. Also, to try and keep up with the latest trends, jumping on a product that's hot and getting it out there before it's dead."

Continues to adapt to change

Scott Whirley, Brainerd, started working at Bang Printing September 1978. He graduated from Brainerd High School May 1979 and went to the Brainerd Vo-Tech. He graduated from the natural resources program in May 1981, all while still working at Bang Printing. He is still there adapting to the many changes over the years.

Goes the extra mile

"My husband Chuck Wynn Jr. started working at Anderson Brothers Construction Company on Oct. 1, 1976, fresh out of the U.S. Army at age 21. He trained in heavy equipment and diesel mechanics. He started as a shop mechanic and local field mechanic. With a small fleet of dump trucks and a few other pieces of equipment it was quite manageable for him to keep things running. Later on he started working out in the field that took him to all corners of the state and North Dakota. He worked sometimes six days a week and 12-16 hours a day. They always knew that Chuck would go the extra mile to get the job done and keep the trucks and equipment on the road.

After about a decade of this he was back in the shop and became the shop foreman. Still working hard in the shop repairing and then became responsible for all the repairs of a much larger fleet of trucks and equipment. Hardly ever missing a day of work even when he broke his thumb on the job. It was his left hand so he didn't think it would get in the way of working. Many cuts, stitches and bruises - he always thought he could make it through the day anyway. Later on his title had changed to maintenance supervisor.

Today, after almost 38 years behind him, retirement is in the future. As his wife of 35 years, I would say the key to his longevity is his integrity as a person and to the company. He has always given his best and he has been treated fairly and with respect all these years. He has always tried to lead by example and never afraid to tackle the most difficult repair. As his career is beginning to wind down, I know his hope is that the next generation of mechanics will carry on his work ethic and understand the importance of always giving the company your best every day." - Joan Wynn, Brainerd, on behalf of her husband, Chuck.

Brainerd Dispatch photographer Steve Kohls is the longest currently employed full-time employee at the newspaper. He remembers Bill McCollough, then publisher and owner of the Brainerd Dispatch, telling him they wanted him to stay "at least five years." Kohls will celebrate 39 years with the Dispatch in September.

He estimates he's taken about a 1,000,000 photos since 1975.

So what's his secret to longevity?

"Don't think too far ahead," Kohls said. "You can plan for the future but don't write the script."

He suggested people be humble and be aware of who your friends are. "You can get burned in a moment," Kohls said.

But he recalled an instance where that was not the case. Years ago, Kohls became friends with someone at North Ambulance. One night in 1984, that man called him at home to tell him about a coal train collision in Motley where two coal trains hit head-on. Kohls called then Dispatch reporter Jim Sloan and they headed toward Motley.

Kohls ran into a deputy from Crow Wing County and one from Cass County working the collision. Kohls remembered how he took flash shots and found himself moving closer toward the burning wreck. The Cass County deputy stopped him from getting too close to the wreckage, from literally getting burned. Kohls said his finished photos produced the fear he felt in watching the two trains burn.

Brainerd resident Farrah Slad winning the lottery was another memorable moment for Kohls. He spoke to her elementary school class years prior and she remembered who he was from that experience. That connection helped Kohls get some photos of Farrah and her mom and dad at the Dispatch after it was announced she was a winner.

Kohls recalled Slad mentioning they needed to do an interview for Good Morning America but she had no idea where they could do it. Kohls suggested the newsroom. Sure enough, the next morning, Slad could be seen sitting in the Dispatch newsroom on Good Morning America.

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