The Quarter Century Club

The packed house at Saturday’s last Quarter Century Club dinner speaks to its growth over the years and importance to its members. (Jacob Stark/Waseca County News)

CORRECTION: This story has been modified to provide a more accurate estimated starting date for the Quarter Century Club.

Saturday’s dinner at the American Legion was a lively event. Crowds streamed into the suite to check in and take a seat. The din within the hall was characterized by frequent laughs and exclamations as current and former employees caught up with old friends and common acquaintances.

However, there was also a sense of finality to the night that was echoed by individual members.

For decades, Brown Printing’s Quarter Century Club has served as an opportunity for some of its employees to gather and share common experiences. Since Quad/Graphics’ acquisition of Brown Printing last year, that opportunity might now be over.

Last meeting

Brown Printing was founded in 1957 and had become a mainstay in Waseca over its decades of existence, employing many residents for years. Beginning sometime in the late 1980s to early ‘90s, by club member estimation, this longevity and sense of community was recognized in the founding of the Quarter Century Club, created to honor longtime employees with 25 years or more of service.

Gerald Cutting is one of the club’s original 13 members.

“We thought we should get together and do something,” he said, quick to mention that the night’s banquet was being looked at as the final one.

“I don’t think the new company will continue to have it,” he said. “That’s what I hear.”

Cutting was blunt.

“I think it’s just a bad deal that they’re not carrying it on,” he said. “I always thought it was a great deal to have this. It’s nice for people to get together to have a good meal and get to see people. I’ve been retired for 20 years, and I’d never get to see any of these people.”

Cutting pointed out how big the night’s turnout was, since it was the last chance for members to have the opportunity to get together in this way.

Club member Warren Routh also remembers the earlier days of the club.

“It was to honor employees for longevity,” said Routh. “It was a very small group because there weren’t many.”

These words, in their contrast to the packed room on Saturday night, illustrated the growth of the club and the company that founded it.

In its early iterations, the club met in the location that used to be where El Tequila is now.

“It was just to honor employees,” Routh said. “It was just a dinner, no entertainment or anything like that. We got together in a restaurant in town and had a meal at the restaurant. It was not much more than that.”

Routh, who has been retired for 15 years, has not noticed a big change from his perspective in the club since the acquisition of Brown Printing by Quad/Graphics.

“I only know what rumors I hear,” he said. “The dinners have been the same.”

On the idea of the club dinners being discontinued, Routh says that it’s up to Quad/Graphics.

“It’s their business,” he said. “As I understand it, they have 30,000 employees, and they can’t treat this one (location) differently than any of their other plants. It’d be a big expenditure to extend it throughout the organization. I think we have to look at it that way. They’re trying to save a dollar when they can.”

Routh chooses to look at this last dinner as an opportunity to appreciate what Brown Printing was able to do for its employees.

“It makes us look back and think how good Brown Printing treated us. It makes us realize that, how good our company was to us. I don’t know how current employees think about it, but not all companies treat their employees as well as Brown did.”

David Harriman started with Brown Printing 33 years ago and has been in the club for seven.

“It’s really about the fellowship of coworkers,” Harriman said of the club. “There’s respect and a common knowledge across different departments.”

Harriman said that he hopes people can still feel that same fellowship if the club is unable to continue to function.

“When I started with Brown, it was a goal to be a part of it,” he said. “I’d miss a lot of faces. To be able to spend time with people who trained me or with people I’ve trained, I’d miss that. It was a great goal to have.”

Harriman points to the club’s ability to reward employees for their years of service to the company.

Since Quad/Graphics acquired Brown Printing, Harriman said that the change is difficult for some to get used to.

“Some struggle with it,” he said. “All of these people knew (Brown Printing founder) Bumps Brown, and he would come down and say ‘hi’ to people who worked there.”

Now, especially with the uncertainty about the club’s future, Harriman indicated that this aspect of the job may be lost.

“We knew people personally,” he said. “I think we’ve lost that personalization.”

Reporter Jacob Stark can be reached at 837-5451 or follow him on Twitter @WCNjacob.

Covering Waseca, Janesville, and New Richland.

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