Orlyn Steffen - much better known to family, friends and others as “OJ” - said he’s a “pretty simple dude.” But he’s much more than that to the staff and students at Nisswa Elementary School.

In fact, Steffen was recognized Oct. 2 on School Engineer Day.

“OJ Steffen is an amazing engineer, staff member, father and person! He is able to fix anything that you put in front of him and with a smile,” Molly Raske, Nisswa School principal, said via email. “His dedication to his job and those he serves is like no other. We are so fortunate and grateful to work with and have OJ in Nisswa.”

Named after both of his grandfathers - “Orlyn” and “John” - Steffen earned his nickname at birth and has gone by it ever since. The students at Nisswa School call him OJ, too, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“They’re always saying hi to you every day,” Steffen said, citing the students as one of the best parts of his job as day engineer at the school.

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A day engineer, he explained, basically does maintenance and custodial work, though he did have to obtain several different boiler’s licenses. He’s also the man on call “any time there’s a mess to clean up.”

Steffen was born in Backus and graduated from Pine River-Backus High School. He never strayed far from home, and still lives in Backus with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children who range in age from 2-6.

He worked a variety of jobs after graduating from high school, including at Scamp trailers in Backus, in maintenance at Pine River Good Samaritan Society, at Shamps Meat Market and Backus Locker, as a construction worker and as a custodian at Pine River-Backus School.

“I’ve done just about anything you can imagine for work,” Steffen said.

The road to Nisswa School started a bit farther south. He worked as a second shift engineer at Forestview Middle School in Baxter for four years doing maintenance and custodian work, which he enjoyed. But when he heard Nisswa School’s day engineer retired, he applied and got that job several years ago.

“It’s nice because it’s a lot closer to home,” Steffen said.

He likes a lot more about the job than just the shorter commute.

“It’s like a family there,” he said of the school. “Everybody’s pretty dang nice.”

And he enjoys the variety his job offers every day.

“I like that I get to do a variety of different things. You get to work with your hands. I‘ve always been that type of guy,” Steffen said. “It’s a lot of thinking too. I like helping people and solving problems if I can. I like fixing stuff.”

And again, the kids make his day.

“The kids are awesome too. I like kids. They’re always saying hi to me in the hall. That makes my day,” he said. “They help you out, pick up stuff for you. They're pretty respectful. The kids make it fun.”

Steffen starts work early at 6 a.m. His day at the school wraps up at 2:30 p.m., but that’s not the end of his workday as he does a lot of odd jobs on the side.

“I get done working here and then work elsewhere for a few hours,” he said.

When he does have extra time between his job and family, Steffen enjoys hunting and fishing, trapping and just being outside. That’s part of the reason he’s never left the lakes area.

“I love to hunt and fish, so I love the lakes where I live. I didn’t plan on going anywhere,” he said.

And he doesn’t plan to leave Nisswa School anytime soon.

“I like Nisswa School. It’s a nice little spot. All the people are awesome to work with. Everyone is willing to help you out and it makes your job even easier,” Steffen said, giving props to Dana Ramig, who works second shift at Nisswa School.

“She does the majority of cleaning at night and really has her work cut out for her,” he said, especially when the school building expanded in size after the recent renovation project.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.