Bay City company honors employee's 50th year on job

By Andrew Dodson
The Bay City Times

BAY CITY (AP) - When the 1965 Ford F-100 pickup truck first rolled off the assembly line, 19-year-old Blaine Lederer first strolled into Northern Concrete Pipe.

At the time, Lederer never expected he'd still be on the job five decades later.

He also never expected that one of those Ford trucks would play a role in his golden anniversary, according to The Bay City Times.

But that's exactly how things turned out on July 29, as the owners of the Bay City company - in front of more than 100 co-workers, family members and friends - presented Lederer with a completely refurbished, 1965 Ford F-100 pickup truck to honor his 50 years of service.

"Oh my God. I can't believe it," the 69-year-old Monitor Township man said, staring at the pristine powder blue and white pickup.

He was then speechless.

He let out a few nervous laughs as he walked toward the truck. He rubbed his hand on the chrome and smelled the fresh leather interior. His wife Karen was wiping away tears that had rolled down her cheeks.

He then paused. A classic truck - a similar model to one he drove 50 years ago - was coming home to his garage. It was something that hadn't sunk in right away.

He also reflected on his time with the company.

"The owners of the company are great people," he said. "I'm fortunate to have been given a job here and to have worked for as long as I have."

Lederer started as a general laborer for Northern Concrete Pipe, earning $2.36 an hour - a wage he described as "very good" at the time. Over the years, he was involved in nearly every aspect of the business.

He was a leader of the wire room when the company made box cages out of rebar. He was a mechanic. He operated the Hydrotile packerhead machine. For the past several years, he has worked as the plant superintendent, making sure workers are doing the highest quality and safest work possible.

"I was only working a few days out of the week when I first came here, but then I kept working and working, and before I knew it, had some responsibility," Lederer said.

His work ethic and love for the job was obvious. Bill Washabaugh, president of the family-owned business, said he could probably count on one hand the days Lederer has missed work.

But even more important than his reliability is his ability to teach younger employees to do the job the right way, Washabaugh said.

"Blaine has always stood firm to represent that which he believes in," he said. "That trait has endeared him to those that have had the responsibility to manage the operations of this plant. He won't buffalo you into just hoping the issue goes away. There is right and there is wrong. To Blaine, the difference has always been obvious and he has stood up for it."

Thinking of a gift to give an employee who has hit such an extraordinary milestone in their career is no easy task, Washabaugh said. He called dozens of his contacts in the manufacturing industry across the country, asking what to give an employee who has been on the payroll for 50 years.

All gave him essentially the same response: "We've never had someone like that before."

For Lederer's 40th year with the company, the owners surprised him with a $10,000 check to be used for a vacation. He took his wife on a cruise through Alaska.

When the idea came up of buying a classic car from the year he started with the company, it wasn't easy to execute. The owners thought they had secured the perfect truck in Las Vegas, but it was sold out from under them. A few weeks ago, there was one available in Caledonia on the west side of Michigan, but they were never able to contact the truck's owner.

They finally found Lederer's truck at a classic car dealership in Indianapolis, complete with a 390-cubic-inch engine and three-on-the-tree transmission. Every little part on the truck, Washabaugh said, had been completely restored.

The company also gifted him with a special hardhat that includes his name and 50-year recognition and a custom Northern Concrete Pipe fire ring for his backyard.

Lederer wasn't the only employee honored with something special.

Jim Horen is celebrating 46 years with the company, working a variety of jobs, including leading the company's first Kor-n-Seal Crew.

Horen celebrated his 40th year with the company at a time the economy was slow and never received a gift of money for a vacation. So Washabaugh honored him with a $10,000 check and his own parking spot at the business.

Horen and his wife Sandy haven't decided where they're going to travel yet.

Gary Frei came to Northern as a surveyor with the Michigan Department of Transportation and is now celebrating 46 years of service. Today, he works as the company's dispatcher.

He, too, missed out on a vacation after 40 years and was awarded with a $10,000 check.

Dan Pletzke, a former high school chemistry teacher, is celebrating his 43rd year with the company. He worked in the business office and today serves as the company's treasurer. Company officials noted his anniversary during the gathering. Pletzke, who works in management, declined a special gift for his years of service, according to company officials.

Washabaugh said the success of his family's company hinges on employees like Lederer, Frei, Horen and Pletzke.

"This company has survived and grown due to what Bill (Washabaugh) Sr. used to always refer to as eternal vigilance," he said. "You never quit doing your best and looking for improvement.

"We have employees who have stuck around long enough to find out what this company is about. We have survived because we have been able to continuously surround ourselves with the very best people."

As the ceremony was wrapping up, Karen Lederer, who wasn't in on the big surprise, sat at one of the tables, unable to stop smiling. Her husband has been married to his job longer than to her, and she knows how much the company means to him.

"This is our family," she said. "This is always going to be our family."

Published: Thu, Aug 06, 2015

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