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Setting an Example

This week is the 50th anniversary of my father’s death.

1967 was the year the Packers would win the first Super Bowl. The Vietnam War was in full force under the guidance of President Lyndon Johnson. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his world championship for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. Army. The Beatles just released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Here are several other memories of 1967:


  • Year-end close Dow Jones Industrial average: 905 
  • Average cost of new house: $14,250
  • Average income per year: $7,300
  • Average price of gas per gallon: 33 cents
  • Average cost of a new car: $2,750
  • Minimum wage was increased to $1.40 an hour
  • 1967 movies included The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and Cool Hand Luke


On December 21, at the young age of 54, my father had a heart attack and died. There was no warning. I was in eighth grade, and he was my best friend, my hero and mentor.

My first memories of much of my life start in kindergarten. This week, I want to celebrate the leadership that I learned from this man who didn’t even finish high school and had this terrible habit he couldn’t break: smoking Camel unfiltered cigarettes his entire life.


For many years, my dad was the plant manager for the Pepsi Cola bottler in Rockford, Ill. He and the sales manager of the plants reported directly to the couple who owned the bottling franchise. There are a couple of stories that illustrate how he managed.

We didn’t vacation much because of dad’s work ethic; however, we did plan a big Thanksgiving trip to see relatives in Nebraska when I was in fourth grade. My brother, Duke, who was 18 years my senior, and his family were joining us there. Duke was a route salesman at Pepsi and worked for dad’s counterpart.  After we arrived, we got a phone call that my brother had to cancel the trip because his boss wouldn’t give him the time off. My mother was furious. Dad responded that he needed to let the sales manager do his job and it wasn’t dad’s business to get into: Both had their own teams to manage.

The guys on the assembly line were dad’s team and turnover was limited. There was a door to dad’s office that he closed when dealing with work, family, money or any other issues with any individual.  What was said behind those doors stayed behind those doors; confidentiality was his way of life.


I went to a Lutheran school from kindergarten through eighth grade, and I rode the school bus. I had the option, with either of my parent’s approval, to take a different bus to Pepsi and sit at my dad’s desk for 90 minutes until the end of his work day. Dad would pull up a wooden 24-bottle case, put it on its end for me to sit, pull out the metal sliding shelf on his desk, and I’d do my homework on that shelf while dad did his work at his desk. I’d get a nickel for a bottle of pop and another nickel for a candy bar.

I loved going to his work, even on Saturdays. He taught me the value of having a good work ethic. One afternoon I remember calling my mom and asking her if I could take the bus to my dad’s work. She said, “No,” so I called dad and asked him. He, of course, said, “Yes.” I did go to his office but learned, that day, to NEVER play both ends against the middle.

He taught me that a parent should be involved with their kid’s schooling. He was on the school board and made sure he was always there for sporting events I was in as well as any other event I was involved with.

I was at Pepsi one afternoon when Duke came back to Pepsi. Along with him was a new route salesman. Duke introduced the new guy by saying, “Dad, this is Carl; Carl, this is my old man.” My dad calmly said, “The day you can whoop me is the day you call me your old man. Until that day, I’m your father.” My brother never referred to him as his old man again. I never did either—nor any other father I’ve ever met. Dad cured me that day by teaching both me and Duke respect.


In the bottom drawer of his work desk was a Bible. He didn’t wear religion on his sleeve, but he kept the well-worn Bible there for personal reasons or if he was helping someone on his team and felt that the situation called for “divine intervention.”

He was an usher at church and was always the first one there for the 7 a.m. Sunday service to stand at the front door and welcome each parishioner. He started this tradition at our church.

Finishing Projects

Building model cars, building bird houses using a jig saw or any other project like this was exciting and frustrating at the same time. I loved working with dad on something before I went to bed. The challenge was that once he got started working on a project, he was driven to complete it. In the morning when I would wake up, he’d show me what we working on, but he had always finished it. Later in life I finally understood why he did it: It was simply part of his DNA.

Hard to believe it has been 50 years since his passing. Hard to believe he imparted so many lessons and so many wonderful memories in such a short period of time.

As we face a new year, let’s look in the mirror and see how we can be better leaders in all aspects of our lives!

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