From all over Story County, and even further away, former employees of Donnelley Marketing came to Nevada this past Saturday.
Over 300 were in attendance at Gates Hall to reminisce at a Donnelley Marketing Reunion — the first major gathering of its kind for all those who once worked at the long-time Nevada business giant.
Donnelley Marketing, which started out as Reuben H. Donnelley, closed its Nevada doors in 1999, after being purchased by First Data Corp in 1996. Donnelley Marketing will go down in history as being a national leader in the "direct mailing business" throughout the 1900s. The company employed thousands of workers from around the Nevada area.
Dick Olinger, who ended his career with Donnelley’s as vice president of data processing, helped organize the reunion and was pleased with the great turnout and the good time. "We had a blast," Olinger said, reflecting on Donnelley Marketing’s significance in supporting hundreds of families through employment.
Olinger was asked to help with the reunion by a local group of former employees, who thought it would be fun to reunite with former co-workers and friends who had worked together for many years at the company. That is how the reunion came about. The committee members included: Terri Wilson, Wanda Bauer, Sven Bauer, Marcy Kaufman, Arlo Huse, Deb Rasmusson, Terry Martens, Jean Kingsbury, Jeannine Sansgaard, Denise Risdal, Ed Dahlgran and Olinger.
As those in attendance were asked at one point to raise their hands for the number of years they had worked for the company, attendees included those working 1-5 years, as well as many who worked 30-40 years and more. The oldest attendee of the reunion was Frances Hoffer, 100, of Nevada, who worked in the company’s clerical department for 30 years and supervised some employees during that time. She retired in 1979.
Bernie Klug, whose last position with the company was senior vice president, presented a Donnelley trivia PowerPoint, which featured questions about a lot of the acronyms used at the business. For instance: What did CICS stand for? Customer Information Control System. What was DQI? Donnelley Quality Index.
Klug’s trivia questions entertained and educated the attendees, who may have forgotten some of the things their employer had pounded into their brains over the years.
What does the ZIP in zip code stand for? Zone Improvement Plan. When was the zip code first used? 1963. When was the four-digit zip code first used? 1983. These were important things to know if you were working for one of the largest mass mail companies in the country.
Klug’s trivia reminded people of the fact that one of the largest prize mailings, done by Publisher’s Clearing House, was produced in Nevada and Sioux City. Three major diaper companies — Pampers, Luvs and Huggies — sent their coupons from Nevada. The California company who distributed its catalogs through Donnelley Marketing was Star Crest.
Surprising to many was the answer to Klug’s question about when the largest volume of mail — 500 million pieces — went out from Donnelley Marketing. It happened in 1994, just two years before the company was sold and operations moved to a smaller office location in Ames.
Barry Wilkening, a third generation family member to work at Donnelley’s, where he held a number of positions during his career with the company, took the microphone and shared some thoughts. Wilkening joked that when Olinger had called him and asked if he’d want to say a few words at the reunion, he abruptly said, "No." But Wilkening said he thought about it a bit and, "I thought my memory’s not what it used to be, so if I screw up, come Tuesday, I won’t remember that anyway." In fact, he surmised, most of those attending the reunion probably wouldn’t remember it either. This age-related humor was a big part of the reunion, where — it’s safe to say — the attendees had been out of high school a good number of years.
Wilkening said most attendees had probably come to the reunion to remember, to celebrate the good old days, to enjoy friendships they’d made with co-workers and to satisfy their curiosity about all the people they used to work with. And each person at the reunion, Wilkening said, had his or her own Donnelley story. Wilkening’s began in 1962. He was 16 years old and got his first summer job with Donnelley’s for $1.40 an hour.
On that first day of work, Wilkening remembered, "I was ready to take on the world." Then he found out what his first task would be — helping to wash all the windows in the building. "I think it took us about three weeks." And while it wasn’t the world-tackling type of assignment he had hoped for, he acknowledged that he did have some fun. And he moved from there to being a loader and unloader of hundreds of product samples that had to go on trucks and railroad cars. "That was hard work."
After three summers of working for Donnelley’s, Wilkening was hired by Dick Atwell to work in the computer room, where his first assignment was to "go scratch some tapes." This garnered laughter from the crowd, as many remember the mundane task of removing labels from tapes, so they could be re-used.
Wilkening said his 27-year career at Donnelley’s wasn’t impressive because of the length of time he worked there. "It’s how my story intersects with your stories," he said. These "intersections" between people are how relationships were built, which is what truly made Donnelley Marketing strong. "Donnelley’s gave me the opportunity to work with the finest and most professional people I’d encounter anywhere." Having worked all over the country, Wilkening concluded, "I never found it (the great work ethic) anywhere like I did here."
Long-time plant manager and plant manager at the time of the business closing its Nevada operations, Arlo Huse, followed Wilkening at the microphone. Huse thanked the committee members who had organized the reunion and thanked all those who had come. "I just can’t believe how you guys have changed," he said, with an emphasis on "you guys" that brought laughter.
Huse shared a few memories of working at Donnelley’s, including all the different buildings the company occupied before it finally moved into the one huge building at the eastern end of Nevada’s N Avenue.
Huse, who said he had so many job titles while he worked for Donnelley’s that it definitely kept the personnel people busy, said he got to his 41 years of service with the business giant because of all those he had worked with. "You’re great," Huse said, looking a bit overcome by the emotions of the moment — a moment of remembering so many people, so many lives touched by one very special company in Nevada’s history. "I love you; I really do. God bless you all."