By Kris Leonhardt
After the passing of Harry C. Wenzel in October 1971, son Harry J. Wenzel purchased his father’s and mother’s shares of the Harry C. Wenzel and Sons company. Following a stockholders’ meeting in early 1972, Harry J. became president of the business, and William Wenzel served as vice president and treasurer.
The same year, the company expanded its Wenzel’s Farm product line, adding fresh meat and other products purchased from suppliers.
By mid-1975, William wanted out, and Harry J. agreed to purchase his shares. Harry J. retained his position as president; his son Russell took on the role of secretary/treasurer; and Harry J.’s wife, Violet, became vice president.
“Our mother, Violet, was very active in the business after Harry J. bought out his brother Bill,” said Judy Wenzel, Harry J. and Violet’s daughter. “Violet worked in the office on a regular basis, providing additional accounting support in addition to serving on the company board of directors. She was also a sounding board whenever Harry and Russ discussed business plans over Sunday dinner.”
While Wenzel and Sons was family run, Harry J.’s daughter Nancy Wenzel said that sentiment extended into every aspect of the company.
“When Harry J. talked about Wenzel’s Farm Sausage as a family business, he was not just talking about blood relatives,” said Nancy. “To him every employee at Wenzel’s was a part of a special family committed to producing the best product on the market. He cared about his employees like family and helped many of them personally through difficult times. His office door and his heart were always open to all employees.”
Harry J. and his family continued to produce a quality product with a unique flavor while expanding the company.
“Dad often said, ‘If your name is on it, it has to be good,’” explained Judy. “He was committed to producing quality sausage he was proud of and unwilling to take any shortcuts in the process or in the quality of the meat and spices. He also emphasized safety and plant sanitation.”
By 1981 Wenzel and Sons had 350 retail outlets in Wisconsin that spanned an area from Menominee to Green Bay and from Hurley to Sparta. These outlets included large chains such as Copps Company and IGA.
In September 1988, Harry J. underwent heart surgery, and Russ assumed the role as chief operating officer.
“Dad was active in the business until his death in 2003,” recalled Judy. “After Russ succeeded him as president, Harry continued to work closely with Russ in managing and growing the business.”
In addition, Harry J. maintained a strong presence in the Marshfield community, a place that multiple generations of the Wenzel family had called home.
“Making a difference in the community was as important to him as running a successful business,” said Judy. “(This included) serving on the Wood County Board of Supervisors; being one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County campus; serving on the Associated Bank local board; serving multiple roles in his church, Faith Lutheran, including president of the church board.”
Next week: The last generation