Not too many companies honor employees with a 4-course meal at a fine establishment and a special gift, just for being an employee. This happened the last Saturday in February at the Osthoff Resort because Sargento is a special place. Employees here are treated like family and family comes together during the year to break bread, laugh and give thanks. The annual Service Awards Banquet was like Thanksgiving; with people visiting over good food and sharing stories from the past.
“This is the place I’ve always wanted to be,” said Kiel Material Handler Mike Kienbaum. “I started when I was 19 years old.”
Kienbaum attended the banquet with his wife of 43 years Jean. The day before the banquet was Mike’s last day at work. He retired without any fanfare after 45 years at Sargento. That night, however, the crowd rose to give Mike a standing ovation as he walked in front of the stage.
“This really is me riding off into the sunset. I can’t complain,” he said. “I’ve worked with the greatest people in the world. The Gentine family has always been fair as far as wages and working conditions. We raised two daughters. Doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” he smiled.
That was the sentiment of many gathered in the ballroom: the fleeting nature of time.
“It went fast!” said Plymouth Store Attendant Rose Kaiser. “I can’t believe it’s been 35 years. Sargento is wonderful to its employees. It’s been a lot of fun, especially the last 5 years in the Company Store. I feel like I know everybody now!” she smiled.
The banquet annually recognizes employees who have reached 5-year milestones of service to Sargento. This year’s rotation honored Sargento family members who started in 2009, 2004, 1999, 1994, 1989, 1984, 1979, 1974, 1969 and 1964. The employee who has an impressive 50 years of service is Plymouth Utility Valeria Schroeder. She was unable to attend the banquet, but was honored by Executive VP-Human Resources Karri Neils and CEO Louie Gentine.
“Val is an amazing woman,” said Neils. “In her 50 years at Sargento she has barely any absences. She does her job, every day, with kindness and a willingness to help. Congratulations Val!” she said to a thunderous round of applause.
Each Sargento “class” was introduced with an accompanying video that depicted what was happening when their careers began. When Mike Kienbaum started in 1969, Blood, Sweat & Tears topped the music charts with “Spinning Wheel” and the Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’ was the Middle American: the emerging middle class.
“When I hit 25 years, that’s when it started to hit me,” said Kienbaum. “It hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m retiring. I know I’m going to miss the people the most.”
The evening closed with Louie Gentine thanking the Sargento family for their dedication and willingness to make the company a success.
“All your work has made us who we are today,” he said. “Each one of us benefits from the hard work that you do. It’s important for us to recognize and celebrate that. Thank you and God bless.”
Also following tradition, those who marked 25 years of service took the spotlight. Most were toasted, some were lightly roasted but all in good fun.