Father, son put in many years at Nisswa Marine - Younger Petersen retiring after 51 years
Not many people work their entire, 50-plus-year career with the same employer. Even fewer stay that long at a place where their father also worked for years.
Ken and Greg Petersen - a Nisswa father and son - did just that with a combined 90-plus years working at what is now Nisswa Marine. Ken retired in 1989, and Greg will do the same later this month.
Ken, 94, said he started working in 1949 "at the garage up town" when Walt and Roy Leonard owned it. The Leonard brothers owned the original Nisswa Marine site off Highway 371 on Nisswa Lake starting in the 1930s.
"They brought marine engines up to the garage and I worked on them there," Ken said, noting most were inboard motors on wood boats.
The Nisswa native said he worked on boats and engines until 1989.
Greg got his start in the marine business by tagging along with his dad.
"Of course my dad worked at the marina and I'd go visit him at work in the summers when I was a kid," he said. "I'd go with a boat and boat all day and get a ride home with him at night. One night I was hanging around with him, and Ted Dullum said, 'You're always hanging around here. Why don't you go to work?' So I did."
The Dullum family had purchased the operation from Ray Madison in 1966, calling it Martin's Marine and specializing in Johnson outboard motors. The business got the name Nisswa Marine in the 1960s. Lee Anderson bought the company from the Dullums in 1985, and Steve Wiczek bought it in 1998, moving it to Smiley Road in the spring of 1999.
Greg worked summers starting in 1967 at age 15. He said it was great working with his dad.
"I learned a lot from my dad. We got along good. We could communicate well," he said.
Greg recalled installing starters in OMC Reveler boats, which required two workers.
"We worked together well doing that," he said.
After 51 years at Nisswa Marine, Greg, a technician, will retire March 23. His long career will be celebrated from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at Nisswa Marine when the business hosts the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce's Nisswa at Night event.
Reflecting on his career, Greg liked that he worked close to home and every day was different and interesting.
"You get to work around water and lakes. You get to go for boat rides. How can you beat a life like that?" he said.
Both father and son said they've always worked on lawn mowers and engines of all kinds as a pastime.
"We were doing the same thing we would do at home, but we got paid," Greg said.
Both also cited their co-workers and customers as highlights of their jobs.
"After working with them for eight hours a day for many years they become as close as family," Greg said of his co-workers, saying he will miss all of his fellow employees, and mentioning retiree Bob Wallin and the late Harold Thompson, as well as Nisswa Marine owner Steve Wiczek, General Manager Brent Wiczek and "top salesman" Jeremy Wiczek.
"Getting to see those people every day and working with them - we got along so good," Greg said.
Both Petersens enjoyed the excitement of seeing people each summer when they returned to the lakes area.
"And the boats are kind of like old friends too," Greg said.
Regarding Greg's retirement, Brent Wiczek said: "I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with Greg the last 20 years. He is one of the most humble employees I have worked with. Never mattered how small or how large the task was, Greg always has the best attitude to tackle the project."
He called Greg a solid, kind-hearted and great community person.
"Lots of customers and lake people have known Greg to be part of the culture here at Nisswa Marine. He'll be deeply missed," Wiczek said.
The Petersens reflected on changes in their work over the years. Greg said when he started working, a 75-horse outboard motor was popular. The business sold Johnson boats, and one boat was the 21-foot-long Johnson Surfer.
"And that thing was huge. To get it into the showroom was a challenge," Greg said. "Now you have 30-foot pontoons. A 75-horse was a big outboard and now you have 300- to 400-horse. Now it's more like you're riding across the lake in your living room."
Today's boats are more complicated with touch screens, Bluetooth and a place to charge cell phones, Greg said.
After retirement, Greg plans to do nothing for a year.
"Dad and I will be tourists this summer. We're going to hit a bunch of garage sales, relax and take it easy. I plan to put my own boat in the water and play around on it," Greg said.