John Repp has lived in many different places over the past 80-plus years, and Minnesota has always been good to him.
It’s where he got a fresh start as a youth; it’s where he met his wife; and it’s where he retired. It’s where he enjoys being a parishioner at Crosslake Lutheran Church and an active member of the Crosslake-Fifty Lakes American Legion as the post chaplain. It’s where he just spent his first winter in the past 50 years at the home he and his wife, Carol, have on a lake in Ideal Township.
“Minnesota’s very special to me because of what I went through as a kid,” Repp said. “The closer I got to retiring - it was a magnet.”
Repp was born in Chicago, and as a young boy his father returned from serving in World War II, divorced his mother and left them.
“I was on my own at 8 years old,” Repp said, because his mother had to work. “We lived in a Jewish neighborhood. I had no friends. What it gave me was a lot of independence, a lot of self-reliance.”
His mom was from Minneapolis, and Repp was sent north to spend summers with his grandpa - “a bachelor” - who had a sawmill near Isle. When Repp’s mother remarried, his grandfather convinced Repp’s stepfather to come work at the sawmill after his stepdad was laid off from his job at an insurance company. So the family moved to Mora when Repp was a seventh-grader.
“It was like an epiphany, a blessing,” Repp said. “I never told anyone I lived in Chicago. Mora was just a haven for me.”
He had many mentors, including his principal, who was a Naval reservist. He told Repp about the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. Repp took the Naval Academy entrance exam and was accepted into the program.
He received an appointment to the University of Minnesota, where his tuition and books were paid for on the condition he serve with the Navy for three years after graduation and commissioning.
He picked a destroyer out of San Diego, with a plan of being a bachelor. However, “When I worked for the University of Minnesota Daily (newspaper) in ad sales, I met and was smitten by a girl in the office,” he said.
When he got to his ship in San Diego, he was lonely. Carol had relatives in San Diego and visited. The plan for bachelorhood was forgotten, and John and Carol were engaged in September, married in December and Repp deployed a month later.
“Nine months later I saw my wife again,” he said.
Once commissioned, Repp stayed with the Navy for five years, earning the rank of lieutenant. As a communications officer in the Navy, he eventually transferred to what was then the Naval Air Station in the Twin Cities so Carol could complete her nursing degree.
After leaving the Navy, Repp thought he’d easily find a management job. He was wrong. His college grade point average wasn’t great, and that’s what companies considered. He finally landed a job as a personnel assistant with Control Data, and while he was excited, he also had a chip on his shoulder.
“I started at the bottom - I mean it was the low man on the totem pole,” he said, noting he wasn’t necessarily a rule follower and occasionally got into a bit of trouble.
His career took him to New York for one year, as well as to California and Texas. He was a personnel manager, but said: “I hated personnel. I’m not a support person, nor do I always follow the ‘rule book.’”
He again took a risk and accepted a job in California managing a data center.
“It was fate. I was at the right place at the right time,” he said, but later quit that job.
The Repp family moved back to Minnesota where Repp worked for a small company that used Control Data equipment. He managed the sales operation, but said he didn’t know what he was doing and was fired.
He returned to Control Data in California to manage another data center and eventually fueled his passion, which was sales. The family bounced around as Repp was promoted and moved about every two years. That included time in Houston before he received “the break of a lifetime” in the peripherals business of disk and tape drives with Control Data and Seagate Technology. He spent 15 years with the western region in San Jose.
“Selling is a true passion. Through all the mistakes I made, I learned a lot,” Repp said, noting he taught sales in a different way to his salespeople.
He credits Harvey Mackay, an American businessman and author, for teaching him the crucial importance of customer service. Repp told his salespeople their job was to exceed people’s expectations.
Repp retired 25 years ago. Carol’s parents had a place on Sibley Lake, so he’d been to the lakes area a few times and it’s where they wanted to find a retirement home.
“We spent a week looking, and the last place we saw - when we drove in, Carol and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it,’” Repp said.
The Repps have three daughters - two in California and one in Anoka - and seven grandchildren. Until this past winter, they’d spent winters in California and summers in Ideal Township. The snowbirds have decided to stay here year-round and will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in December.
“The people here - everything you hear about Minnesota is true,” Repp said.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.