The history of Steele County is rich with innovative leaders and powerhouse entrepreneurs.
Though the second National Entrepreneurship recognized by the Owatonna Area Business Development Center took place in February 2021, it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon the past and present leaders in entrepreneurship were celebrated, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most anticipated recognition was the naming of the 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year. This year, Scott Limberg of Limberg Productions was given that honor. He was nominated along with Dan Kubista, of Wagner’s Lunch, Scott Hagland, of Straight River Coffee, and Roger Warehime, of Foremost Brewing Cooperative.
“I appreciate the award; it’s been a lot of work,” Limberg said, acknowledging that Limberg Productions wouldn’t be what it is today without his staff of 24. “Thank you to all the businesses that have supported me through the 10, 11 years we’ve been at this … We still have a lot of big plans ahead of us.”
Also recognized during the celebration was Scott Pierce, the business education teacher at Owatonna High School. Superintendent Jeff Elstad hailed Pierce for his dedication to inspiring the entrepreneurial minds of Owatonna’s students.
“One of the things I like to tell my entrepreneurship students — we talked about failure — is that sometimes it is better to be humbled by failure than to be arrogant from success. Just keep trying, if it doesn’t work, try the next thing,” Pierce said. “Being in Owatonna, obviously talking about all the different entrepreneurs that have come through Owatonna, I have a lot of great examples that I can bring to the table.”
Pierce plans to retire from teaching at the end of the current school year.
As was done in the 2020 inaugural event, five more influential players in the area’s business community were inducted into the Steele County Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame. This year, the inductees include the Gandrud family of Gandy Company, the Kaplan family of Owatonna Tool Company, Otto Josten of Jostens, Carol Nelson of National Hydro-Ax and Cybex International, and the Lange family of Owatonna Canning Company and Festal Farms.
The Gandy Company
Though E.S. Gandrud held about 80 patents, it was his invention of the Gandy wheel that put the Gandy Company on the map. Using two pairs of pliers and a coil, the resulting wire model progressed into a rod measuring wheel that enabled one person to accurately measure acres where previously it had taken two. Approved by the Agriculture Adjustment Administration in 1936, the Gandy wheel instantly came into high demand to meet the measurement of field acres to qualify for farm programs.
Gandrud brought his firm to Owatonna in 1937 starting in a garage on Mill Street before relocating to a basement near the rear of the current Wells Fargo Bank in downtown. The firm eventually moved in 1945 by building a plant on the east side of Main Street to produce fertilizer spreaders for the military.
In 1980, Gandrud received the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Awards and was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1984.
The Gandy Company is now located on Rice Lake Road in Owatonna and continues to be family owned and operated.
The Gandrud family will be accepting the honor at a later date.
Owatonna Tool Company
The foundation for the Owatonna Tool Company’s success was created by a simple but effective gear puller patented by Reuben Kaplan called the “Grip-O-Matic.” By 1934, the company was selling a variety of mechanic’s tools to farmers and service stations. When World War II began impacting the United States, the Owatonna-based company sold large quantities of tools to both the Army and Navy.
In 1953, R.W. “Buzz” Kaplan began looking for new products for the company to manufacture while another company approached them about producing hardware for window awnings. Instead of just producing the hardware, the company’s engineers redesigned the device, creating the patented lever lock operator.
Today, Owatonna Tool Company – or OTC Tools – is a global supplier of vehicle electronic diagnostic instruments, fuel systems service tools, special service tools, general purpose tools, pullers, heavy-duty tools, shop equipment, and hydraulic components.
Kristin Kaplan Holsworth, granddaughter of Buzz Kaplan, accepted the honor on behalf of the family.
What started as a watch-repair business, Otto Josten’s company founded in 1900 has become a household name for any American family who has a child go through high school. The Josten Manufacturing Company first produced scholastic pins, but as Josten recognized early the growing trend in the country for students requesting rings specifically designed for their graduation class, Jostens took off.
Josten founded the American Yearbook Company in 1950, later merging it under the Jostens brand. For over 100 years the company has been the preeminent supplier of class rings, yearbooks, graduation products, and photographic services to schools throughout North America.
Jostens is also the primary supplier for Super Bowl rings.
Todd Bridgeman, plant manager for Jostens, accepted the honor on behalf of the company.
Always interested in starting his own business, Carol Nelson has founded several.
His company National Tree Expert contracted with utility companies to clear new and existing right-of-ways. When the machines weren’t fast enough, Nelson decided to find a more efficient way to do the job. The single brush mower attachment and brush cutter head developed by Nelson is still being used today.
Nelson is known as one of the true entrepreneurial spirits of Owatonna. If he wasn’t building a forestry product line, he was investing in two brothers’ dream of creating a new exercise equipment line – what would eventually be known as Cybex.
Nelson was present to accept the honor.
The Lange Family
In 1911, L.C. Lange purchased a pea cannery in Owatonna. That first purchase was the beginning of what would be known as the Owatonna Canning Company and Lange family philanthropic dynasty. Developing new ways to create fresh, healthy and local produce was always part of the family tradition, in one year the company processed crops grown on approximately 200 acres.
About a decade later, the organization was incorporated and came to notoriety with the highly acclaimed Festal Pumpkin – the gold standard for pumpkin pie during the holidays.
In 1997, the Owatonna Canning Company was purchased by Chiquita Brands International, later acquired by Seneca Foods and later again to Lakeside Foods, Inc. The Lange family remains an important part of the business through the ownership of Festal Farm Company, which consists of 7,500 acres of agricultural land leased to Lakeside Foods.
Chad Lange accepted the honor on behalf of the family.