When he was 20 years old, Mel Edinger’s soon-to-be wife Donna asked him, “Don’t you think it’s time you got a job?” The couple was getting married the next year, and Edinger needed a way to support them. His brother Fred worked for a manufacturer down the road from his hometown of De Pere, Wisconsin, so Edinger applied for a position at the same company — the Ariens Company. He started two days later and never looked back.
Edinger started in the machine shop. About eight months into the new job, he came in for a shift and was promptly told to go see the company’s chief of engineering. “I thought I had screwed something up the night before and was about to get yelled at,” Edinger said. “Instead, he asked me if I wanted to become an engineer apprentice. Man I was relieved. And looking back, it turned out to be a good career move to accept it.”
Edinger went on to have a 48-year career at AriensCo before retiring from his full-time position in 2011. Even though he retired, Edinger found ways to occupy his free time by filling in a variety of part-time roles with the company. Recently, Edinger sat down with Out Working to reflect on his career and what AriensCo has not only meant to himself, but also the Brillion, Wisconsin, community.
Out Working: What are some of the jobs you have held with AriensCo over the years?
Mel Edinger: With the engineering apprenticeship, I worked as a product engineer for about eight years, including the five-year apprenticeship program. That’s when Francis Ariens asked me to transition to a technical service position where I would talk to dealers and answer their questions. I did that for many years with Francis until he passed away. Then I became the warranty manager, and I did that until I retired in 2011.
OW: But you couldn’t stay away too long...
ME: That’s right. I didn’t know what to do with all my new free time, so I was back working within two weeks of retirement. Now, I mainly fill in helping process warranty claims, and I serve as coordinator of the museum.
OW: The AriensCo Museum has grown tremendously since its creation more than 15 years ago. How valuable has it been to the company and the community of Brillion, Wisconsin?
ME: The museum means a lot to the company because it encapsulates all of its history and displays some of its major milestones. It’s equally as important to the community because as AriensCo has grown over the years, so too has the town. Their histories kind of go hand-in-hand. Also, the museum is another gateway to connect with the community, as we host school field trips and often open the doors for other community events.
OW: What has that history looked like over the course of your career with the company?
ME: Not only the company, but the Ariens family means so much to this community. Since the company’s founding, the community and company have grown together. When the company has grown, it hires a lot of local employees, which in turn helps other local businesses grow. Even when the company might have had a slow sales year, it retained all the employees. And that means a lot for the people in Brillion.
Two good examples stand out to me. The first is Brillion Iron Works. The Ariens family founded the business in 1893 when Henry Ariens first moved to Brillion. Now they bought back the land and are redeveloping it for better community use. Another time is when the community needed a fitness center. Understanding that many of the employees would use the fitness center, AriensCo donated all the equipment.
The family is so invested in the community. I saw it with Francis and Mike Ariens and am now seeing it with Dan and his kids. They truly make employees feel like they’re part of the family.
OW: Over the years of working at the company and closely with the family, is there one thing that has stuck with you?
ME: The core values mean a lot to the company, and one thing that I learned from working with Francis on the customer service side was to always be honest. He was always a straight shooter, and I think that’s something that I picked up from him. Because if you’re always honest, you don’t have to remember what you told people in the past. It should be the truth every time. While customers may not always like to hear news like that, I think they appreciate it.
OW: Why have you stuck with AriensCo for so long?
ME: It gave me my start and gave me so many opportunities to better myself, from education to personal growth. I truly feel like I’m part of the family. Even after I retired in 2011, I’ve stuck around in some capacity.
When I give a tour of the museum, I hope that I can tell the rich history of the company. I enjoy it, and I’m proud of the history of the company and the community. I’m 76 years old now and healthy. I don’t picture myself stopping anytime soon.
On Facebook @arienscomuseum