Roger Hendricks was taking automotive classes at the then-Anoka Technical Education Center in 1968 where he was put in contact with Mel Schulte, who offered him a job as a mechanic at Hi-Ten Service Center in Coon Rapids.
That was 45 years ago. Hendricks is retiring from Hi-Ten Service Center Dec. 31.
An open house in his honor took place at the shop Dec. 12, where customers, friends and family came to congratulate Hendricks on his long tenure at the business.
Born and raised in New Lyndale, which is between Maple Plain and Watertown, Hendricks graduated from Delano High School, then after starting work as a mechanic at Hopkins Dodge, he was drafted into the U.S. Army at the time of the Vietnam War.
Hendricks served a 16-month tour of duty in Vietnam as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne and was then stationed in Germany.
Returning to Minnesota after his discharge from the Army, Hendricks went back to work at Hopkins Dodge, but when his wife, Mary, got a job at Mercy Hospital, he decided the time was right to make a move to a job closer to where his wife worked, Hendricks said.
At the technical education center where Hendricks was taking automotive classes, Schulte was a substitute teacher and he learned through a guidance counselor that there was an opening at Hi-Ten Service Center, he said.
He applied, was interviewed by Schulte and hired, Hendricks said.
“Mel took a risk because Vietnam veterans had a bad rap at that time,” he said.
He has never regretted any moment of his 45 years at Hi-Ten, Hendricks said.
“I have enjoyed and getting to know so many people over the years,” he said.
In fact, there are customers at Hi-Ten Service Center who are second- , third- , even fourth-generation family members, Hendricks said.
What Hendricks has liked most about the job is the customer contact, he said.
But he has always enjoyed working at the shop, more so than at the dealership, according to Hendricks.
“It was very political at the dealership,” Hendricks said. “Here, everyone pulls together to get the job done.
“We get the car back to the customer in a reasonable length of time at a respectable price.”
“I have always tried to treat customers like I want to be treated.”
Retiring will be bittersweet, according to Hendricks.
“Mentally, I’m not ready to retire, but physically I am,” said Hendricks, who turns 65 in January.
That stems from his 16 months of combat as a soldier in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne where he saw plenty of action, according to Hendricks.
He emerged unscathed from the war with only a “few scratched and scrapes,” but over time he has been affected by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, Hendricks said.
That has led to Hendricks contracting diabetes and neuropathy, which has caused muscular atrophy and nerve damage and has left him with weakness in both legs, he said.
“I don’t feel that I am as efficient at the job as I was and that costs the business money,” Hendricks said.
“A 30-year-old can do the work faster now.”
Retirement will mean that “I will be able to do what I want to do” and he has plenty of things to do, Hendricks said.
As an American history buff, Hendricks wants to visit some of the Civil War battlefield sites as well as the Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., he said.
Hendricks is also a competitive shooter in handgun and rifle leagues, loves to hunt and has a cabin in 60 acres of woodland in McGrath.
“I spend a lot of time at the place,” Hendricks said. “I love walking in the woods.”
Hendricks and his wife Mary, who has been a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital for 40 years, live in Ramsey and have two sons, Jason and Josh, and two grandchildren, Eva, 5, and Brodie, 3.
“I will get to spend more time with my grandchildren,” Hendricks said.
Mel Schulte, who purchased an abandoned auto shop at the corner of Coon Rapids and Hanson boulevards, and opened Hi-Ten Service Center in the fall of 1958, remembers Hendricks as “one of the top” students in the class he taught as a substitute at the tech center.
Hiring Hendricks “worked out very well,” Mel said. “Roger is a good guy,” he said.
Hendricks has always had the customer’s best interest in mind, being honest with people and “telling it like it is,” Mel said.
“Roger did that very well and he has always cared most about the people,” he said.
Scott Schulte, who took over the Hi-Ten Service Center business from his father in 1998 – though Mel continues to come to work regularly – was only eight years old when Hendricks was hired by his dad and he worked side by side with him at the shop for many years, he said.
According to Scott Schulte, Hendricks is from the generation that never shirked on the job or missed a day of work.
“He worked up until the last minute every day and I expect he will do the same on his last day, Dec. 31,” Scott said.
Indeed, Hendricks has been training in his successor, Russ Westphal, who started Nov. 1.
“There will be no replacing Roger,” Scott said.
“He has the kind of institutional knowledge that can’t be replaced.”
Peter Bodley is at email@example.com