Employee # 1 retires after 47 years at Sukup Manufacturing
SHEFFIELD -- Dennis Foss knew better than to listen to the naysayers who thought that Eugene Sukup’s corn-stirring machine was a fad gadget.
“There were people uptown who said, ‘Why do you want to work for them? They’re going to be done in 10 years’ time. This thing, it’s just a fad,’ “ Foss recalled.
Nearly half a century later – 47 years – Foss retired from Sukup Manufacturing Co. on Aug. 30, grateful that he disregarded the doubters.
He was among the first three employees of Sukup Manufacturing. Technically, he was the very first employee, given that he started working for Walt Moehle’s machine shop, which later became Sukup Manufacturing, before the other two original Sukup employees, Dave Stadtlander and Ed Smit.
“It’s been a real good ride,” Foss said at his retirement send-off, attended by his family and scores of co-workers. Seeing the company grow to more than 500 employees and watching so many products grow from idea to mass production was great, he said.
“It seemed like Gene always had an idea” for a new product, said Foss, 69.
“Forty-seven years with a company has to be a record,” said company President Charles Sukup. “Everyone I tell … can’t believe we’ve got the first employee that ever worked for the company.”
“We appreciate what you’ve done in building this company,” he said to Foss.
Eugene Sukup said Foss, who was the company’s purchasing manager for many years, took his work seriously and was good at working with suppliers and at locating parts that were needed for machines.
He “always had a pleasant attitude and felt we could solve any problem,” Eugene Sukup said.
Steve Sukup, chief financial officer of the company, said he remembers getting off the school bus and going to the old machine shop, where Foss would help him with projects. Foss once made him a bar bell set. In later years, Foss helped him put exhaust pipes on his car, and even helped pound out a dent now and then.
Foss’ University of Iowa Hawkeyes license plate stuck out like a buttonweed, but the Iowa State University Cyclones-favoring Sukups graciously endured his fanaticism. There was a Hawkeye exemption for Foss, being the first employee and all, Steve Sukup quipped.
Foss said he knew way back when that the stirring machine held great promise. “I grew up on a farm, and I knew that what we were doing was going to do nothing but get bigger and better.”
Over the years, the company’s customer service and top-of-the-line manufacturing equipment were the best in the business, said Foss.
Among the gifts he received was a $750 gift card for a new recliner. “It’s up to you if you want to go with the extra black and gold,” Steve Sukup said, drawing laughs from employees and Foss’ family.
Foss and his wife, Paulette, raised four children – Troy, Denise, David and Steve, and have five grandchildren, three of whom are in Sheffield.
He said he plans to stay in the area. “Why would I want to move? We’ve got a nice house. We’ve got a golf course within two minutes. If I want to go fishing, there are pits around here -- I can be there in five minutes. If I want to go boating, 30 minutes. If I want a little culture I can go two and a half hours to Minneapolis or an hour and a half to Des Moines.”
If he wants to get back together with longtime friends and co-workers, he knows the way well.
And when he goes uptown, he can be proud of helping turn a tiny machine shop in Sheffield into one of the top agricultural manufacturing companies in the world.