At 65, Polaris is more than a job - it's family!
August 12, 2019
Locally, it's almost impossible not to discover at least one relative in the family tree who hasn't worked at the Polaris plant in Roseau over the past 65 years.
Take the Przekwas branch.
The late Frank Przekwas was a foreman and all five of his sons - Robert, Jeff, Dean, Dale, and Gary - worked at Polaris for various stretches while Ann worked there for 20 years.
Dean, going on 40 years at Polaris, works as a quality inspector.
And let's not forget Marge Przekwas, the grand lady of the Przkewas clan, who worked on the line.
Raynard Lundgren, 73, now retired, can be considered one of the old-timers.
"I started in '64 and retired in 2008," he said last Sunday.
What kind of work did you do?
"Pretty much every job possible. I was in manufacturing and in engineering," he said, adding that he learned on the job.
His son, Cory, is working there now.
"I was just shy of 45 years when I retired," he said. "It was a beautiful place to work. I enjoyed every day. I started out putting trail tractors together."
This is a big weekend for Mr. Lundgren, a former National Guard member who served for 13 years.
"I'll be marching in the parade with the Honor Guard," he said.
Own a Polaris?
"Oh, yes! I've got three sleds and two ATVs," he said.
Ever been back to Polaris?
"I stop in there every once in a while to see what's going on and talk to the people I still know there," said Raynard.
Mike Hetteen, a retired Polaris executive and the son of the late Allen Hetteen, one of the three Polaris founders, was momentarily stumped on how many people have worked for Polaris up here over the past 65 years.
"I have no idea," he said on Sunday afternoon.
"In the early '90s, we were up to 1,800 employees at one time. Now, it's 1,400 something."
His family tree shines for Polaris.
"We're actually on the fourth generation of Hetteens," said Mike.
"Dad (Allen) was president and he hired his dad, Emmanuel, who worked out in fabrication," he said, adding that his brother, Donovan, is a project engineer in the snowmobile group.
"Donovan's son, Alex, is an engineer for PowerTrain, and my daughter, Carrie Rugland, now works out of the Medina office."
Pick almost any family and they have deep roots to Polaris.
Edson and Marlys Brandt, both deceased, certainly did.
"My dad got laid off and when I was born on February 9, 1959, he started the next day full-time at Polaris," said Allen, who recently retired from the Roseau County Highway Department.
"My mom, Marlys, started there in '63 or '64, and Mom is in the Polaris Hall of Fame. She worked there like 39 years, and my wife, Cindy, has been there for 40 years now," he said, noting that he did two stints at Polaris, first as a test driver and then as a welder and later as the lead person in the warehouse.
Anybody else in the family?
"My sister, Vicky, worked there for 20 years," he said.
Mary Ann Olafson, the daughter of the late Everett Norman, has a special appreciation of Polaris.
Her dad was 69 in 2004 when he could have died except for fortuitous circumstances.
"Right after Dad punched out, he dropped to the floor and was brought back to life with a defibrillator that had recently been installed," said Mary Ann, forever grateful to the quick work by the maintenance crew.
And forget about retiring.
"He really liked it there," she said, adding that as soon as he got a clean bill of health, he was back at work at Polaris until he was 71.
Mike Bodell, the maintenance supervisor, remembers Everett as a very hard worker.
"And he loved to tell stories about working in Chicago as a crane operator in the big city," he said. "He was just a fantastic guy."
Looking Ahead to 100
Ben Dieter, the Director of Snowmobile Engineering, is a first-generation Polaris employee.
"I'm the only one in my family," said the mechanical engineer who is nearing the 20-year mark with Polaris.
"I take care of the team that designs all the new snowmobiles," he said last Saturday.
Mr. Dieter has an impressive knowledge of the company.
"We're over $6 billion now, over 13,000 employees in manufacturing sites all over the world, and the growth has been pretty incredible. We have just a whole host of brands," he said, noting that their biggest business is the Ranger.
"We refer to the overall business as ORV - off-road vehicles, and that includes the Ranger and RZR," he said last Saturday, noting that there are seasons or cycles with everything - farming and the weather.
"What is relevant is diversification. We started building snowmobiles and snowmobiles funded ATVs and ATVs funded Ranger and Ranger funded RZR and that funded motorcycles, and now we have tentacles into other things," he said. "The whole point is to diversify so we're not locked in on one season or one product.
The department he directs has 65 employees.
"We work as a team to make sure that we're trying to one-up the competition.
It's a bit of dog-eat-dog, and the one that wins is the one that continues to innovate and have consistently high quality so the customers are not only impressed with the innovation but can trust that it's reliable, and they can have some fun with it."
Ben Dieter speaks with enthusiasm about the Big P - as many employees refer to Polaris.
There's no little P in Polaris.
"Our predominant work force is still from the U.S., but we've got quite a few people here from India that live right here in Roseau. India is pretty well-known for some of their software and IT," he said, adding that Polaris has sales offices all over the world that are staffed by local citizens.
Maybe their motto should be: Have Polaris, Will Travel!
Export to China?
"Not so much ATVs, but we do sell RZRs and Indian motorcycles there," he said, adding that the Japanese buy some Polaris snowmobiles for up in their ski resorts.
"They also buy some of our motorcycles. It's not huge. The biggest business is North America - particularly the U.S. and Canada. Mexico is coming on strong for the RZR business and Indian motorcycles," he said, mentioning that Brazil is a growing market.
"Europe is a pretty good market. We've sold in Scandinavia for many years because of our snowmobiles and ATVs."
It's 35 years to the Polaris centennial, and the future is bright for the one-time little company that just keeps growing.