For the love of agriculture: Nicolai keeps plowing away after 50 years
On Nicolai Avenue sits the Hastings location of the agricultural equipment and Case IH dealership, Minnesota Ag Group — a street that, coincidentally, shares the name of the company's most dedicated worker.
Born and raised in Hampton, Jerry Nicolai began working for the business, then called Bahl's Motor and Implement, on June 16, 1968, two weeks after his high school graduation.
Five decades later and he is still happily working for the same company.
"Our whole family got involved with agricultural stuff like this," Nicolai said. "(I) just basically grew up with agriculture in mind."
As a young man, Nicolai started at the bottom of the industry, doing jobs that sometimes seemed unnecessary and frustrating. Nicolai told his daughter, Erica Berg, that his first job was to wash and polish a baler that was so rusty he couldn't imagine why it needed to be washed.
Another assignment, one that required breaking up cement with a pick and hammer, made Nicolai want to quit.
Berg said her father stayed in the job because of the advice of his father, Ray Nicolai Sr., who said, "Do as you are told and you do it well"—advice that Nicolai continues to reflect on and strive to live out.
In 1976, Nicolai was promoted to service manager, a position he still holds and loves. He sets up work at the shop and takes care of the customers who call in with questions on equipment.
The job centers on service, allowing him to meet and interact with all sorts of people, which he said is what he enjoys most about his work.
"I know a lot of people that keep me into this career," said Nicolai, and his passion is obvious to his coworkers.
Mark "Flax" Flacksbarth, service-semi driver for Minnesota Ag Group, said that Nicolai is "such a good boss." The "first here and last to leave."
But that's just part of Nicolai's character and what he believes to be necessary for the job.
"When I go to work, I pretty much hold to the whole job that I'm taking care of my own business," said Nicolai.
For Nicolai, this celebratory year isn't necessarily different than any other year. He loves his job and can't picture himself doing anything else.
"I enjoy my life and what I'm doing here," said Nicolai.
Despite this milestone, Nicolai isn't retiring quite yet. He plans to keep doing what he does so well and consequently continue to share his family's passion for agriculture with the community.