The very first “boss” I had at a paying job was my friend Steve’s dad, John Hoffmann. He hired me to walk beans when I was a youngster. I thought it was fabulous. Steve and I walked down rows near each other, searching for weeds. John and his wife Kathy never yelled at us for dilly-dallying, but gave subtle encouragement. We got soda and candy bars for break and then a home-cooked meal every day for lunch. At the end of the season, they took us out to eat at the pizza buffet in town.
Wow – what a great boss! This work thing wasn’t going to be so bad.
And then I started working for Heritagefest, the former big polka festival in New Ulm. First-year workers got to walk around the grounds emptying garbage and keeping bathrooms stocked with supplies. After that, we could move up to preparation and take-down. This involved a few weeks to get things ready (it was a big deal in New Ulm!). For that, my bosses were some of my teachers from school; this was their summer job. That was a little more difficult. I didn’t really want to see these people during the summer! Plus, they weren’t afraid to get after us if we weren’t pulling our weight.
I recall having an argument with one about the best way to move some bleachers. I wanted to put extra people on the back since that part was heavier, while he thought we could just put one person at each corner. After his idea failed miserably, we went with mine. (This small victory was probably a bad sign for all my future bosses – I wasn’t afraid, even at the age of 15, to challenge an idea!)
Turning 16 was a big deal because I could get a real job! I followed in Dad’s footsteps and worked for Randall Foods, your one-stop shopping center. I started out selling Christmas trees and decorations before moving into the main store and bagging groceries and finally joining the stocking crew. Through all this, my main boss was Dick “Here I Go A” Ginn. (Yes, my fascination with nicknames started in my teens…)
Dick oversaw the entire operation, so my interactions with him were limited, but he would always mix a friendly greeting with a list of 10 things I should do before my shift was up; his eye was always on the prize. The key was to always at least have an empty cardboard box in your hand if you saw him, to make it look as if you were in the middle of something. Dick’s focus to get the job done was admirable.
When I headed off to Winona to further my education, I merely shifted to the Randall Foods there. I ended up working in frozen and dairy for much of my time there under the helm of Duane DuBois. Duane was the best of all bosses – he taught me what I had to do and then just let me do it. I had a very flexible schedule around my classes; all I had to do was make sure my job got done. When Duane had to take a medical leave, I assumed his role for a couple of months. Suddenly I was a boss myself and had to make some decisions. It was a startling couple of months, but I’m eternally grateful that Duane trusted me with that at the age of 22!
And now I’ve been through three superintendents at NRHEG. This, plus two principals, isn’t a bad number going into year 20 of my career. And the range of personalities has been tremendous with the top man. As I wrote this, I realized how I could compare each of the three to former bosses. Rich Lorenz, for whom I had the highest respect for his managing of this district through both good and tough financial times, was a lot like Dick Ginn. Kevin Wellen, who had a turbulent six years here, reminded me a lot of my Heritagefest bosses – we didn’t always agree, but the job got done.
As Dr. Goodwin departs for Arizona, I realize that he reminds me a lot of Duane DuBois. While some staff didn’t always appreciate Dennis’ outgoing personality and the passion he had for students, I found it refreshing and a lot like my final years in the grocery game. I had input into the product if I desired, but I was also encouraged to do my own thing and not be afraid to take chances. While the biggest chance I took at Randall Foods might have been rearranging the pizza freezers (it was a big deal!), having a boss who appreciates me and lets me work is the best kind.
Best of luck to Dr. Goodwin (I saw it was 114 degrees the other day in Arizona. Dry heat…), and I hope we can find the next boss to be of a high caliber as well.
Word of the Week: This week’s word is turbid, which means unclear or muddled, as in, “The future of the school was turbid as it searched for a new superintendent.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!