Feature: The Passion Of An Entrepreneur For Business, And Life!

by Jim Dittmann
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By: Brett Rechek          

My father Jerry Rechek was born on March 15th of 1943.  He was the oldest of six children.  At a very young age, he learned responsibility, helping to raise his brothers and sisters.  Living on a farm in those days was not an easy life.  His parents Eugene and Chrysanta both worked factory jobs in addition to the farm to help make ends meet.  Even so, money was extremely tight.  After graduation in 1961, Dad was drafted, but a Baker’s cyst on his left knee kept him out of the service.  He got a job at Maysteel, the factory his father worked at, but he knew after a very short time that factory work was not in his blood.  

Strong, basic values guided Dad in his passion for life, and business.  He was hired at Krogers in Waupun as an apprentice meat cutter in 1962.  When that store closed in 1963, he was transferred to Milwaukee and worked there until a drop in business forced his hours to be cut to the point of not being able to afford rent.  He quit that job and started working for McGowans Meats as an apprentice meat cutter, but he was getting married in October of 1964 and a full-time position at Super Valu in Fond du Lac became available, so he worked there for about a year.  When a position in Waupun as a police officer was posted, offering more money, Dad applied.  Their first child was on the way, and he needed the extra income.  He survived the interview process and was awarded the job of night patrolman for the City of Waupun.  With an extra mouth to feed at home, the income was still not enough to cover the bills, so he applied at Lauer’s Food Mart in Waupun for a part-time stocking and bagging position.  During the next year, he worked nights at the Waupun Police Department and five hours a day at Lauer’s Food Mart, but the police business was not for him.  His goodhearted nature made it an extremely difficult job.  All his friends called him “Barney Fife” and tested him to give them tickets.  However, my dad was always thankful for the time that he was able to spend as a police officer; until his dying day he always had the utmost respect for those who chose to serve their community, and led him to his life of community involvement.  He was committed to giving back to the community even before he owned his own business. 

A full-time opening in the meat department at Lauer’s Food Mart was offered to Dad in 1966, and he most graciously accepted.  He became manager of the meat department in 1970 and served in that capacity until 1975, when the store manager left to start his own business.  At that juncture, Dad pursued and was granted the opportunity to be store manager.  This was his dream job!  In his hometown, a poor farm boy was going to work with a shirt and tie on, managing a successful business.  He did this so well that when a management position opened up at one of their larger stores in Fond du Lac in 1979, he was offered that job.  He was very skeptical; after all, he was in his dream job in his hometown.  So he said, “No, thanks.”  John Lauer was quite insistent and asked him to write a list of things he would need to make the move.  My parents sat down and wrote up a list that they thought the Lauers would never agree to.  John Lauer carefully examined the list, looked up and said, “Ok, you start in Fond du Lac next week.”  Dad was always sorry he did not ask for more.  However, there was one special contingency that he had included in his requests.  If a new store was ever put in Waupun, he would receive first chance to return to his hometown and manage it.  For two years he managed the Lauer’s store on Johnson Street in Fond du Lac.  He was not happy in the larger town, but made the best of it.  Then, in 1981, opportunity knocked again.  Lauer’s announced the acquisition of a bigger location for their Waupun store.  Dad was ecstatic to go back to his hometown!

The Lauer brothers’ business was comprised of four stores in 1982 when the three brothers split up.  Two of the stores were located in Fond du Lac; Steve Lauer assumed control of one and Bruce Lauer, the other.  John Lauer retained the Waupun store and the store in Beaver Dam, and Dad started to oversee both stores in 1983.  The Beaver Dam store was struggling mightily, barely keeping the doors open.  Dad spent more and more time at the Beaver Dam location trying to get it turned around, and in January of 1985, John said to him, “What do you think we should do with the Beaver Dam store?”  Dad replied, “I’d sell it if I was you!”  John convinced him that with the right man in charge, the store could be a success!  In February of 1985, Dad convinced Mom that if they were ever going to own their own business, this was the time.  They put their house in Waupun up for sale, began looking for a new home in Beaver Dam and moved to Brook Street, near the hospital in Beaver Dam, late in 1985. 

The name of the Beaver Dam store was changed from Lauer’s Foods to Rechek’s Jack & Jill.  At first people thought my father Jerry was Jack and my mother Marcia was Jill, but Jack & Jill was a trade name for the store’s supplier, the Nash Finch Company.  Mom was extremely worried about the new venture.  Before, everything was comfortable, and now there was lots of risk.  Dad took a $100 per week pay cut to start with and said to her, “Don’t worry, honey.  I will not allow this to fail!”  I had been the frozen food and dairy manager at the Beaver Dam location since September of 1984.  We worked lots of hours to keep the store afloat, but it seemed like we were just treading water and barely able to make ends meet.  Then, in 1988, the building attached to the store became available.  Dad decided to expand and added Granny’s Deli.  Mom began learning how to run a deli department with the help of the deli advisor from Nash Finch, Irene Scheers, and the co-manager Donna Kastien.  A small bakery department was also added at that time.  These two departments made the difference, and the business started growing.  Pick N’ Save had opened in town in July of 1987.  Dad said that was the main reason for adding the deli and bakery, so his store could compete.  In 1988, Lofberg’s Super Valu closed, as did Bergeman’s Shop Rite, but it was still very difficult in the smallest store in town. 

In 1994, Dad heard that the old Monarch property was going to be developed with a new grocery store as the anchor store.  Sentry & Super Valu were both interested, and Dad knew if he did not get the nod to build that new store that his little store would surely not survive.  With the help of the Nash Finch Company and the Horicon Bank, he was able to obtain financing.  In 1995, Dad received the bid to build his new dream store, and Rechek’s Food Pride opened in May of 1996, fulfilling a lifelong dream.   

Dad had always been in awe of the support of the community and vowed to give as much back as possible.  We started a golf benefit for Unified Catholic Parish Schools, which later became the St. Katharine Drexel School.  In the 11 years of the benefit, over $300,000 was raised for the school.  We started a scholarship program for employees, and since 1996, over $65,000 has been given in scholarships to our employees.  Many local non-profit organizations benefit from the scrip program, and the fundraising stand has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars.  All in all, over 1.5 million dollars has been donated back to the local community since 1996.

Dad’s philosophy was very simple, “Treat people like you want to be treated.”  In everyday life and in business!  Everyone is created equally and should be treated the same.  Everyone deserves a chance to be happy.  Another favorite saying of his was, “If you think you can’t, you’re right.  If you think you can, you might!  You’ll never know if you don’t try.”  In business, he always wanted to offer a terrific product at a fair price.  He used to tell all associates that the customer is the reason for our business.  They are never an inconvenience; without the customer, there is no store, so the customer is our boss.  Make sure they are happy when they leave, so we see them again.

Dad was very proud to be part of the Dodge County community.  He served on several local boards including the YMCA, the St. Katharine Drexel Endowment Fund and Green Valley Enterprises.  He encouraged all employees to be involved in their local community and participate in local events.  He encouraged students to be involved in their school activities and made sure management worked around school schedules as much as possible.  His mission was the youth of Dodge County.  He would often say, “Remember, it’s for the kids; they are our future!”  He was proud of each and every person he worked with.  Even when the job did not work out for that person, he would tell them that not every job was for every person, and that was a good thing because if we all liked the same thing it would be an awfully boring world.  Then he would shake their hand and wish them the best of luck, and he truly meant it.

In January of 2008, Dad was diagnosed with a very rare bone cancer.  They gave him one year to live.  Well, that was completely unacceptable to him.  He had too much to do yet.  He went to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston, Texas for major reconstructive surgery.  The cancer was in his sternum.  They removed most of his sternum along with a portion of his rib cage.  They grafted skin off his thigh and put it over the opening along with grafted pigskin.  He stayed in Houston for six months receiving chemotherapy.  This nearly killed him, but he refused to give up.  With Mom being his rock and awesome caregiver, he slowly returned to strength and back to Beaver Dam.  Over the next six years, he faced cancer with the same courage as he faced adversity in life.  He simply refused to quit!  He lived life to the fullest even though he had to endure several more surgeries, more chemo, and radiation.  He always had a smile on his face and was still more concerned about others than himself.

Dad shook my hand for the last time on the afternoon of Friday, June 19, 2015.  I said goodbye, no, see you soon, to my mentor, my best friend, my father, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.  The world is a better place because of you, Dad.   


Jerry Rechek’s 20 Rules to Live Your Life By

1.     Compliment 3 people every day.

2.     Watch a sunrise at least once a year.

3.     Be the first to say, “Hello!”

4.     Live beneath your means.

5.     Treat everyone like you want to be treated.

6.     Never give up on anybody – Miracles happen.

7.     Forget the Joneses.

8.     Never deprive someone of hope – it may be all they have.

9.     Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

10.  Be tough-minded, but tenderhearted.

11.  Be kinder than necessary.

12.  Don’t forget, a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated.

13.  Keep your promises.

14.  Learn to show cheerfulness even when you don’t feel it.

15.  Remember that overnight success usually takes about 15 years.

16.  Leave everything better than you found it.

17.  Remember that winners do what losers don’t want to do.

18.  When you arrive at your job in the morning, let the first thing you say brighten everyone’s day.

19.  Don’t rain on other people’s parades.

20.  Never waste the opportunity to tell someone you love them. 

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