Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring my husband as he marks 30 years with the same employer October 12, 2013

5:48 a.m.

The numbers on the clock radio glow red in the early dark of an October morning as he leans across the pillow to kiss my cheek, his beard brushing my skin.

Only minutes earlier, I awakened to the angular slant of light from the bathroom cutting across the carpet outside our bedroom, the rush of water from the faucet, the jingle of coins scooped from the dresser top into his work uniform pocket.

In minutes, after he’s laced his grimy Red Wing work shoes, I will hear the door shut, imagine him pulling the rag rug into place that protects the 1995 Chrysler upholstery from grease, picture him heading out of Faribault for the 22-minute commute to work.

For 30 years he’s followed this routine, although not always leaving the house before 6 a.m. But he is busy, crazy busy, in the NAPA automotive machine shop. This is nothing new; it’s been this way for three decades.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

My husband at work in the NAPA automotive machine shop where he has worked for 30 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

He, my husband Randy, possesses a strong work ethic that drives him to work well before the appointed 8 a.m. start and to leave well after the appointed 5 p.m. end of his work day and to labor most Saturdays. When he takes a rare week day off—from only 10 annual vacation days—he is stressed even more trying to meet customer demands.

Every time he takes a vacation day, and those are seldom and never more than five at a time unless combined with a holiday, he must labor doubly hard. Long days before he leaves. Long days afterward. Often it hardly seems worth the time away.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop.

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But Randy sometimes needs a break from pressing customers and the pile of work that never diminishes. His skills—the turning of brake rotors, the resurfacing of heads, the grinding of valves and flywheels and a multitude of other automotive machining tasks I don’t understand—is in high demand. Few do what he does and he’s good at it. Probably the best in southeastern Minnesota as evidenced by his wide regional customer base and the endless work load.

Everyone wants their car, their truck, their SUV, their van, their tractor, their combine, their snowblower, their lawnmower, their recreational vehicles, their whatever, repaired first.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and a drill.

In 2008, Randy was recognized by his employer for 25 years of service to Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. Randy received a plaque, dinner out and an air wrench. Photo by Dan Christopherson.

Did you catch that early on noted time frame of 30 years?

Randy grinds a flywheel.

Randy grinds a flywheel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

October marks 30 years since Randy started working as the automotive machinist for Parts Department, Inc. (NAPA), Northfield.

My husband's NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox.

My husband’s NAPA automotive machine shop toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thirty years at one business. Remarkable, isn’t it?

Even more remarkable, Randy’s labored in the automotive field for just shy of 40 years.  Only two years out of high school and with two years of trade school education, he packed his car in the spring of 1976 for Plentywood, Montana. He lasted there as a parts man for a month, returning from the middle of nowhere to settle in southeastern Minnesota.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

Randy at work. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Randy was employed as a parts man in Rochester, eventually relocating to K & G Auto Parts in Faribault. There he worked as a parts man before moving into the machine shop and learning that skilled trade. He also worked in an Owatonna machine shop until the previous owner of the Northfield NAPA enticed Randy to join his business.

He genuinely loves his job, working solo in the machine shop, although Randy says he always dreamed of being a rural mail carrier. Had he chosen that career path, he would be retired by now, collecting a pension. Taking vacations. Sleeping in. Saturdays off.

Instead, dirt and grease outline his fingernails. Faded white scars mar his skin. Flecks of errant metal, from work projects, lie beneath the surface of his skin.  Sometimes, too often, his back aches. He rises early. Works long days. Sometimes falls asleep in the recliner as the evening fades. Takes well-deserved Sunday afternoon naps.

He’s worked hard to provide a steady income for our family, allowing me to stay home and raise our three children and work part-time from home and continue to pursue my passions in writing and photography. We are not wealthy in monetary terms. But the mortgage is paid on our modest house, food is always on the table, clothing on our backs, bills covered.

And it is because of my farm-raised, blue collar hardworking husband.

Please join me in congratulating Randy on his 30-year anniversary as the automotive machinist at Parts Department, Inc., Northfield. And also wish him a happy birthday, for today, October 12, is his birthday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


56 Responses to “Honoring my husband as he marks 30 years with the same employer”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Great pictures, beautifully written – as always. Thank you for honoring what really matters.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Mark. Sometimes we need to tell our loved ones and not just think they know how we feel. Randy has yet to read this post as we were out of town this weekend visiting our second daughter.

  2. CultFit Says:

    Wonderful post and congratulations to both your husband and to you as well. The pictures speak volumes, his hands, attention to detail – I could go on and on. Take this morning and please be well!

  3. Marilyn Says:

    Dear Randy – Happy Birthday! The honor and blessing of your life on your wife, family, and community is reverberating in Audrey’s touching tribute. May God continue to bless you and all your family.

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    Double wishes to Randy on both 30 years of employment at NAPA in Northfield and a birthday blessing!!! I showed Chris this post and told him Randy had worked the same place for 30 years and he was amazed. In our lives that would not have been possible. There is always someplace for us to move to. 🙂 But what great pride Randy takes in his work and how rare that is becoming. Congrats to him and to you for being right there with him supporting him and giving him all that he needs to be successful in his job.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you so much, Beth Ann. Yes, I think working at one place for 30 years is becoming less and less common. He works so hard…

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    A double celebration!!! CONGRATS and BIRTHDAY BLESSINGS from Tom and I!! Audrey, your post is an awesome tribute to a work ethic most all of us grew up with and (may) take for granted or think is a ‘given’…….I am sure Randy is very much appreciated at NAPA (at some future time, replacement will not be possible/easy). Hugs coming your direction…….

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Doreen. We celebrated Randy’s birthday with a long weekend visiting our second daughter in northeastern Wisconsin. It was a nice weekend get away.

      As for replacing Randy, I don’t think that will be possible. There just aren’t young people going in to automotive machining, and probably none who would equal his work ethic.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        You are right, machining of any type is dirty unglamorous work that most would not even dream of doing. There are many “behind the scenes” jobs that will disappear with our generation and who will fill them??? They will still be needed and not every shop will have the fancy schmancy computerized set-up that’s state-of-the-art.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You’re right. These skilled workers will still be needed.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Absolutely and I think that that fact has been overlooked too often!

  6. Jackie Says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your husband, It really does sound like he loves his job, and people love him! Congrats to Randy on his 30 years at NAPA, I hope he took to day off for his birthday and that you both have a great weekend celebrating together 🙂
    I didnt realize Randy and Rick have birthdays 1 day apart.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well, then, happy birthday to Rick.

      We spent Friday through today with our second daughter in northeastern Wisconsin. Great weekend to get away.

  7. DeLores Johnson Says:

    Good Morning Audrey,

    Congratulations to your Randy on his 30 years at work and also a Happy Birthday too.


  8. Mere Frost Says:

    Contratulations Randy! HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you! Nothing like a farm raised man! I know. I have one too! So lucky we gals are!!!! 😀 Enjoy your birthday!

  9. Mere Frost Says:

    oopsie! bad typist…Congratulations! 😀

  10. Allan Says:

    Congratulations Randy! 30 years at one place is a record nowadays. It is nice that Randy comes home to a kind, caring Wife, and a nice home! That said, Randy has been married to the same woman for a long time too, another record. If Randy keeps up with these records, Sony Records will be signing him on soon!!! Have a great day, both of you!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ever the humorist you are, Allan. I always look forward to your comments. Yes, Randy and I have been married 31 years.

  11. Kevin K. Says:

    Love. Honor. Respect.
    Well done – both of you. Together.

  12. Amber Schmidt Says:

    Happy Birthday Dad! We hope that you have a great day!

  13. chance3689 Says:

    Congratulations big brother and Happy Birthday to you! If I stay at SWJH for 30 years I’ll be over 60. 15 year olds won’t mind a 60 year old algebra teacher will they? I am very proud of you Randy! I hope Audrey makes your favorite birthday treat.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I wasn’t home to bake his favorite angel food cake served with strawberries and whipped cream. But…he had a delicious raspberry pie from an Appleton, Wisconsin, bakery.

      • Rosie Says:

        Don’t know why that came up with our pet’s name. I was guessing the teacher part gave you the clue you needed. Glad you had a great weekend!

  14. Dorothy Bowman Says:

    Happy Birthday Randy!!! Of course I forgot to send a card. Also great job you are doing. Can’t believe it has been 40 years!!??? A big hug to you.

    Robin and Dorothy

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thirty years at NAPA and nearly 40 in the biz. Crazy how the years fly, huh? Thanks for your wishes for Randy.

  15. Congratulations.. this is a work ethic everyone could aspire for! And have a wonderfully Happy Birthday!!

  16. Vivian Says:

    The things a person doesn’t know… I had no idea, a rural mail carrier. Congratulations on 30 years as a machinist, Randy. People who work in the same position, as you have, are rare in today’s world. Hope you got your birthday off!

  17. Dorothy Bowman Says:

    Sorry, my finger hit the wrong key! I meant 30 yrs.!!!!

    Love to all of you, Dorothy and of course Robin too.

  18. That is an ACCOMPLISHMENT that DESERVES a CELEBRATION – Congrats to your husband!!!

  19. randy Says:

    Thank you Audrey for the wonderful write-up.

    Thanks to all your cyber-friends wishing me well.


    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are welcome, Randy. You deserve the praise and well wishes. You work so incredibly hard.

      P.S. Please remember to bring home a piece or three of that apple pie dessert you’re getting today at work as your birthday treat.

  20. Lovely post, Audrey! Yes, many congratulations to wonderful Randy! (And a belated birthday, too!) 30 years is most impressive – truly, especially in this day and age. You’ve got yourself a good guy!

  21. Bump Says:

    Your other half is just getting started. With a little luck there’s another 20 or more coming. I’ve been reading your blog for more than a year now. It’s one of the best. And the pictures are magnificent. I’ve a special place for rural Minnesota. Spent every summer on Joe and Rose Koch’s farm near Grand Rapids as a boy. Best education a boy can have. Since those days some 77+ years ago I remember the good and bad times clear as a bell. Keep writing. You are very good at it.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dixon, thank you so much for your kind words regarding Minnesota Prairie Roots. I am humbled to get such praise for doing what I love (writing and photography) and showcasing the state I call home, Minnesota.

      I agree there’s no better place to get an early education than on a farm. I’m not all that familiar with the Grand Rapids area, having been there only once quite a number of years back to tour a lumberjack camp and the Judy Garland museum. Pretty area, as I recall, but quite different from the prairie.

      Thank you for being a loyal reader and for commenting. I value my readers for without each of you, my blog wouldn’t exist.

  22. Sartenada Says:

    Congratulations! I do not know what the situation there is, but in Finland it is not self-evidence to work for one employer “all the life”. For example I worked only 38½ years for Finnair, before they “kicked” to be retirement at the age of 60 years. Next year 10 years since my retirement.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      “Only 38 1/2 years?” That is commendable. The situation you described of being “kicked” into retirement has become more common in recent years, during challenging economic times. Companies want to “get rid of” long-time employees through early retirement in an effort to save money. Not always the best strategy, in my opinion.

  23. Thread crazy Says:

    What a lovely story of your husband and his accomplishments. It brings back memories of my father as he worked in a machine shop for many many years. I’ll have to agree that the work ethics my father had are hard to find these days. I think you have one of the cherished few – Congratulations to you and your husband.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you. He does have a strong work ethic. Sometimes I wish he would not work quite so hard and at least take Saturdays off. And also, more than 10 vacation days after 30 years on the job would be welcome. That just is not very many, in my opinion. I think he deserves at least four weeks of paid vacation.

  24. ryanware Says:

    Tell him congratulations. Quite an achievement these days to be with an employer that long. He obviously takes pride in doing his job to the best of his ability. I think he and my dad could talk shop. My dad does a lot of machining work as well.

    I used to get to work by 6:30 everyday and the bus stop was in front of the Grand Hotel in downtown MPLS. There is a doorman that has been there as long as I’ve worked downtown and he rather looks like he was put in with the Hotel when it was built. I spoke with him one morning. He’s worked there just over 40 years now. He told me he arrives at 5am and cleans the glass doors that open into the lobby. They are cleaned daily by a cleaning crew, but they don’t do it well enough “it’s through those doors that people first see the hotel and I want the glass spotless, so I clean it each morning”. He loves his job and the people he meets. I would bet he’s seen just about everyone important through the last 4 decades that’s stayed in Minneapolis. In my mind he contrasted with the young 20-something I saw out in front of the Westin in what was formerly the Farmers and Merchants Bank. I could be wrong, but I would bet that the 20-something fellow has nowhere near the passion for his job that the gentleman at the Grand Hotel did.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is a great story, Ryan. You need to photograph the doorman.

      And, thank you for the congrats extended to Randy.

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