Hempelman Lumber

Thorp, Withee Twp., Clark Co., Wisconsin

From The Thorp Courier, September 20, 2006


Years of Dedicated Service

Tom Hempelman stands amongst his faithful employees as he plans for his retirement and sale of Thorp Lumber Company. Employees say that they’ve stayed with Tom due to his high-quality business attitude and understanding of what makes a small-town lumber yard so successful.

Pictured are the employees and their years of service: Back Row: Mike Hempelman, 23; and Shannon Walters, 2; Front Row: Adam Doro, 5; Bill Buss, 41; Ed Barth, 31; Joan Stroinski, 22; Tom Hempelman, 49; Stosh Lawcewicz, 34; Paul Konieczny, 28; and Mike Haas, 11. Missing is Amy Ogle, 3, and recently retired Ken Alger, 29.

Changing of the Guard

Tom Hempelman Retires after 49 years in Lumber

Tom Hempelman was just 18 years old and fresh out the doors of Thorp High School when in 1957 Steve Dus asked him to come to work at the local lumberyard.  Dus had opened Thorp’s lumber yard the year before and with Tom’s addition, had three employees, including Art Szymanski and Donald Ramberg.

By 1965, Tom was the yard’s manager, and by the summer of 1981, the place was his. Bill Buss, who began work with Tom’s management and is still a dedicated employee today, was also fresh out of high school.  He and other employees came to work and never left, despite the many changes they’ve seen over the years.

Bill recalls how lumber used to come via rail from Canada and Washington, when a siding allowed the train to pull right up to the yard for deliveries.  Stosh Lawcewicz can well recall the back-breaking job of unloading the train cars, reloading it onto lumber trucks, and unloading it again – all before sale.  “If you counted returns, sometimes that lumber was handled five or six times,” he says. Bill agrees, “It had to be back in the 70’s before we got a forklift.”

Ed Barth, an employee of 31 years, looks at some of the changes, with Paul Koniezcny joining in.  Lumber quality, the men agree, has improved substantially, from, #3 material to #2 or better.  Tom says much of this change isn’t necessarily due to customer demand, but because loggers have moved from old to new growth timber.  “We had to move up in grade to maintain our quality,” he explains.

Ed talks about a big change that has helped the lumber yard, the influx of Mennonites, who have been a boon.  “They do a tremendous amount of business with us,” he compliments, adding that farming operations are building larger facilities, which has also increased sales volume.  Paul says that vinyl’s and plastics are being used like never before.

Haulers recall how they used to travel all the way to Michigan with lumber loads, primarily because a former Thorp resident knew of Hempelman Lumber’s good reputation and was willing to travel to remain loyal.  “They knew that when they called for the material, it would be there,” the older employees say with pride.  Now, although the Department of Transportation requires special permits for transporting loads beyond a 100-mile radius, the yard’s reputation for fast and efficient delivery has maintained itself over the years.  With Hempelman, an order may be called for in the morning, with the lumber delivered yet that day – a feature that has kept customers loyal and appreciative.

Why, still, have so many of these employees chosen to remain at Hempelman Thorp Lumber for so long, in fact, an accumulated 278 years, counting Tom and recently retired Ken Alger?  Paul puts it simply, “Tom’s really good to everybody.”  Ed agrees, “He’s a tremendous person to work for.  Plus, I enjoy working outside.”  Ed, who worked for Presto years ago, just didn’t like being what he calls “cooped up.”  “You’re doing the same job every day, but you do it differently.  You pull into different driveways, meet different people, and shoot the breeze for awhile.  Tom understands the importance of all this.”  Paul adds, “A big part of this job is P.R. (public relations).”

Today, though, Tom Hempelman looks forward to change, a time when he can start to relax a bit and enjoy days off hunting, fishing, and seeing the countryside.  Coming off 45-50 hour weeks, he’s not ready to “get busy relaxing.”  Times have changed.  “Its going to be hard to keep an individual yard alive,” he speculates knowingly.  “It’s hard to have enough buying power.  The only way to get good quality is through brokers you can trust, from good mills.”

Tom’s faithful employees are sad to see him go, and hoping that he’ll stop by to shoot the breeze between walks in the woods and trips across the U. S.   They’re determined to do their best to maintain his high standards of employee relations, knowing like Tom does, that it counts for everything in a small town.

(The Thorp Courier looks forward to an introduction of the lumberyard’s new owners in the next few weeks.)

[Note:  See this article for information on the new owners.]




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