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Culture - Apr 4, 2024

A Legacy Cast in Iron: 50 Years at Waupaca

Kim Viduski | Waupaca Foundry

A lot can change in 50 years. And Hes Menadue has seen it all. From sand depositing improvements to molding processes, Hes has been part of Waupaca Foundry’s growth into the iron casting juggernaut it is today. His 50-year career with Waupaca Foundry is as storied as the Foundry itself. It all began in 1974…
Waupaca Foundry President, CEO, and COO Mike Nikolai (left) awards Hes Menadue (right) his 50-year anniversary ring.
“I was handed a shovel and a wheelbarrow,” Hes explains. “Nine hours a day, five days a week for nine months straight.” Back and forth, shoveling green molding sand into a wheelbarrow, running it up the ramp to the molding line and dumping it. Hes never counted how many times he pushed that wheelbarrow back and forth each day, but he claims it was into the hundreds. “Only lost the wheelbarrow in there a couple of times,” he says with a laugh.

Born and raised in the Waupaca area, Hes worked at the Clark Service Station as a service attendant before family ties pushed him to give Waupaca Foundry a try. “My uncle was one of the original 13, Orville Pomerenke. We were pretty close,
and he “conned” me into doing this,” Hes laughs.

Three days after his 18th birthday, Hes applied at Waupaca Foundry. It was 11:00 a.m. and he was told to come back around 1:30 p.m. “That was my orientation, by-the-way,” Hes says. “I came back like I was told. Mr. Jim Larson, Human Resources executive back then, handed me a pair of safety boots, introduced me to the foreman, Tim O’Brien, and he introduced me to the shovel and wheelbarrow,” Hes laughs. “We went up a little ramp, opened a door to the mill room…it was noisy and foggy. You've never seen the inside of a place like this. Big Wheelabrators …they're tumbling all these castings, so there's dust everywhere. Guys are hand grinding. It was something else, that’s for sure!”

“Now it’s (sand) blown in and all automated,” Hes explains. “Back then you had to manually keep everything clean, or it would build up under the tail pulleys, head pulleys, and head poles and stop the cooling conveyors. It was a continuous battle."

Hes fought the sand battle for about nine months. Then he applied his skills in other positions: a powered vehicle operator, then a squeeze molder, an iron pourer, cupola relief man, cupola operator, and supervisor trainee–melt. In January of 1981, he landed the position he would stay in for the rest of his career: melt foreman.

Hes-50th-Ring-Close-Up.jpgWaupaca Foundry Plant 1 employee, Hes Menadue's 50th Anniversary Ring.
“Hes was a great mentor to all employees, especially those who worked in melt,” says President, COO and CEO Mike Nikolai. “He was able to share his knowledge and good nature to make Waupaca Foundry a better place to work. He taught me about melting even though I was a metallurgist.”

Over the 50 years Hes has worked at Waupaca Foundry, innovation and technology have driven improvement in safety and procedures. “(The Foundry has) just kept improving and improving. Seems like every 10 years they were putting in a new cupola,” Hes says. “Iron transfers are the same but have gotten a lot faster. Iron pouring got a lot better.” Hes explains, “Back then we had to do hand pouring on the [horizontal molding] machines. You sat on your little bench above the top of the molds and poured each one as they came through. It was suspended up in the air and we tilted it.”

Regarding safety, Hes says, “The only safety stuff you had was your metal jackets…big aluminum jackets. You had spats, and you had your Lumina? pants. There was this big, aluminized hood, but you had no air. So, the air hoods [we have now] are amazing.”

As Hes looks back on his 50 years, he points to why he loved his job at Waupaca Foundry so much. He says, “I really liked what I did when I got to the melt department. I had a variety of work. I was inside and outside. Doing something different all the time. And working with iron is interesting.”

Interesting stories came along with his interesting work. And Hes has a lot of them. “Such good times.” Hes says with a chuckle. He admits there were a few shenanigans throughout the years, but he quips that no equipment was broken, and no one got hurt. "All good fun. It made some of the long days seem not so long,” he says.

Hes credits his strong work ethic and attitude for doing well in the melt department and being promoted. 
“I had the drive. I had the ambition. I had the willingness to help others. Doing the labor is hard. Doing it together makes it a whole lot easier.”
Hes explains his supervision style. “I was firmon making sure things got done the way they were supposed to," he says. "But I wouldn’t do anything I wouldn’t ask my guys to do. I would rather go into a dangerous situation before I sent my guys in. I cared about my team a great deal.

You’d think that pouring your sweat into your work for 50 years would be long enough. But not for Hes. He’s staying on board part-time doing what he’s been doing: startups and cupola repairs. Why? “I’d be bored,” Hes says.

Waupaca Foundry extends a huge congratulations to Hes for 50 years of dedicated service and thank him for helping make Waupaca Foundry the foundry of choice for those seeking to discover the power of true capacity.
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