Waupaca Foundry Avatar

Waupaca Foundry

Culture - Apr 29, 2022

Dennis Peterson Retires With 50 Years at Waupaca Foundry

Lydia Engelbreth | Waupaca Foundry

The median tenure of manufacturing employees working at the same company is five years according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, private sector workers in manufacturing had the highest tenure among major industries. It is true too that people are working longer and waiting to retire. However, reaching the 50-year mark—what is known as a golden jubilee—is very rare regardless of industry.

Dennis Peterson reached that rare distinction when he retired in March 2022 with 50 years at Waupaca Foundry. And with decades of experience, few retire from the iron casting supplier having worked in a variety of areas of the foundry as Peterson.

Dennis Peterson in the early 1970s at the
start of his career.

It’s 1972—The Godfather movie and Don McLean’s American Pie song sit at No. 1 on the pop charts. It is the same year that Dennis Peterson graduates high school and joins Waupaca Foundry full-time seeking a career to support himself and his family. He started working outdoor construction maintenance at Plant 2/3, a role that he grew to love. At the time, he earned $2.10 per hour and was one of only a few hundred employees. Prior to joining the company full-time, Peterson participated in the Waupaca Area School District Work-to-School program as a senior working at the Foundry.

“The foundry was growing a lot, I worked on construction, I drove parts around, and I helped out where I was needed,” he said. “I made a lot of great friends. We had so much fun going around and getting stuff done.”

In the early 1980s, manufacturing declined triggered by tight monetary policy in an effort to fight mounting inflation. It was at this time that Peterson was open to other job opportunities within the foundry. As it happened, Plant Manager Floyd Swan observed Peterson working and declared, “I want that tall boy.” That led to a move to Plant 1 working on what was known as a squeezer line at a cope and drag molding machine. Dennis credits his long-lasting career at Waupaca Foundry to Swan.

After that pivotal internal job move to molding, Peterson took on progressively more responsible roles in the core room making sand cores used to produce grey iron castings at Plant 1. Cores create the interior surfaces of an iron casting. Peterson held operator and service person roles, and concluded his tenure as a forklift driver.

As someone who worked in various departments and roles, Peterson saw many changes in five decades. Among the most significant was improved worker ergonomics and safety, manufacturing process flow, and environmental controls.

“There’s so many [changes] starting with cleaner air and the designs of the building so you have your flows going the right way. I used to get lost,” he said.

Peterson also saw changes in company leadership and ownership structure. Like many of his peers, Peterson considers himself lucky to know the Foundry has great leadership.

“I’ve gone through four different [CEO’s] and they’ve all been really, really good, from Don Brunner to Mike Nikolai now.”

Waupaca Foundry is synonymous with strength, suitability, and financial health. Those same attributes carry on to those who work here.

Peterson is a testament to thriving careers that support strong families. When asked why he stayed for 50 years, Peterson responded proudly and pragmatically that he put his kids through school debt-free, had health insurance he could count on, and was treated fairly.

Looking back on his career, Peterson said he wouldn’t change a thing.

“[Waupaca Foundry] was good to us,” he said. “It’s my second family; in 50 years you make a lot of friends. It’s been one heck of an experience.”

His advice for someone considering work at Waupaca Foundry is simple, “Give it a shot. [Waupaca Foundry] works with you. Give it a chance.”
Dennis Peterson 50 years at Waupaca Foundry

Dennis Peterson at his 50 year retirement

In retirement, Dennis looks forward to spending time with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Whether that be visiting them in Georgia or chasing the grandchildren around to watch all sorts of sporting events, Peterson is ready to become a professional fan.
#culture #employee-spotlight #waupaca