Labor Day: Workers have different motivations


For most, Labor Day is a time to reflect on all the employees who fill jobs in all kinds of industries, keeping Dubois County afloat and serving its citizens.

But what makes a person pursue a particular job or a specific industry?

There are several industries to choose from in Indiana.

According to statistics compiled by STATS Indiana, Dubois County workers filled 29,983 jobs last year; 2020 statistics have not yet been compiled.

The biggest employing industry was manufacturing, which had 11,529 jobs last year. After that was the health care and social assistance arena, with 3,589 jobs.

One of those in the health field is Dr. Nancy Otte. She decided to go into the health field after her own personal health experience.

“I actually had a history [with] the lazy eye or amblyopia myself and had been going to eye doctors all my life trying to correct it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field. So it just all kind of fell in place.”

Otte has practiced optometry for the last 42 years. She plans to retire from her Jasper practice in the next few months.

“My favorite, favorite thing is meeting new patients and developing relationships with them,” she said. “Some of them I've been seeing for 40 years. And for some families, I’ve seen three generations.”

Because of her experience, Otte is passionate about seeing young patients. “I really want to see kids early,” she said, “just to make sure they don't have a lazy eye.”

She will cherish relationships she’s made over the years, and the idea that she has helped so many with their vision problems.

“What I'll miss most about my job also is getting to be around so many people, and meeting new people,” she said. “It's been a wonderful experience.”

Retail is another popular industry in Dubois County. Last year, 2,919 retail jobs were filled. That includes employees at a store as well as business owners.

Laura Reckelhoff moved from retail employee to business co-owner in October 2016.

“I did work in retail before,” she said. “And I've always loved shopping, so I've always known that aspect of retail. But this is my first time being a store owner.”

She and her husband, Matt, purchased Tin Lizzie’s Home Decor and Gifts, the popular store in Ferdinand, from uncle and aunt, Alvin and Diane Hoppenjans.

“I've always been passionate about home decor,” she said, “making things look nice and putting things together. And I had a knack for it. I was always aware of what was out there the trends, and I was interested in it.”

Reckelhoff has learned a lot about the industry so far.

“The joke of a retail person or a business owner wearing a lot of hats is no joke. They really do,” she said. “I had to learn the whole other side of it — so the buying end, the paperwork end, the accounting end. There are a lot of different aspects of the store and running the store that I've learned and keep learning. It's an ongoing process.”

There has been a time or two when Reckelhoff wondered what she’s gotten herself into. “I’m not going to say that I've never questioned that,” she said. “We've gone through a shutdown. We've gone through crazy things that nobody would have ever thought of.”

But there’s never been any regret about taking over the store.

“I still love coming to my job. I love what I'm doing. I love helping people find things that make them happy,” Reckelhoff said. “I’m very happy we did it.”

A field that is slowly shrinking according to the state statistics is the category of agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. The number of jobs in this area in Dubois County in 2019 was 430, which was less than the 452 total for 2018 and the 474 total in 2017.

But there are many in our county who are still passionate about this area. A prime example of that is Mel Menke, who has been farming for more than 60 years.

“It’s a family farm," Menke said. "Our farm has been in our name for about 140 years.”

During that time, he’s had a 42-year career as a high school teacher. But he never stopped farming.

“I haven’t decided to quit yet,” Menke said. “It’s always rewarding to feel like you have a decent crop. It makes you feel good to be productive in that way.”

There are many challenges, like battles with undesirable weather and receiving low prices for their yield. The latter is the most recent challenge.

“Farmers are too good at what they do,” Menke said. “That means we continue to have higher yields than in the past. And then everybody has more corn to sell, and that becomes an oversupply. So that makes the price go down.”

Mother Nature does cause havoc at times.

“You know, 2012 was one of the worst droughts in my memory. Most of the fields didn't even have a cob; not only did we not have any corn on the cob, we didn’t have a cob,” he said. “In years like that, you just have to say, ‘I’ll just make this up in the future.’”

Dealing with the ups and down of the industry is normal, he said.

“American farmers are resilient and persistent. It’s what we do,” Menke said. “So, if it doesn't turn out right — not necessarily because of our fault; it’s just the way the weather is. You learn to deal with it and go from there.”

Menke has never thought about just giving up when things got tough.

“I will stop in a few years,” he said. “But right now, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.”

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