Ogden • Not only is Hartmut Jeske old enough that he could have retired at least 15 years ago, even the job itself is nearing retirement age.
As of June 16, the 80-year-old North Ogden man has been working the same job — at the same company — for 60 years.
And this isn’t some cushy desk job we’re talking about here. Jeske is a fabricator for Richards Sheet Metal Works in Ogden. He spends his four 10-hour days each week on his feet, operating presses, lasers and other machinery to cut and bend metal to his will.
What on earth would make a man continue working into his 80s? Possibly Dorrene Jeske, his wife.
“He doesn’t have a hobby,” Dorrene said. “And I won’t let him just sit home and do nothing.”
Jeske confirms the lack of any discernible hobbies. He used to play the harmonica, but — like his native German language — he let that skill lapse.
“I’ve gone fishing, but that doesn’t turn me on, sitting at a riverbank getting my head burnt,” he said. “I don’t golf, and I don’t hunt. I don’t do all of these things, so the only thing left is work.”
Jeske’s family calls him “Harry,” while his co-workers call him “Hart.” On his work orders, in the space where a signature is required, Jeske signs with a simple heart shape.
Jeske was born Sept. 23, 1937, in Driesen, Germany. When he was 16 years old, his family — which is Mormon — immigrated to Utah. Jeske admits he didn’t want to leave Germany.
“I didn’t want to go, because I left all my friends over there,” he said.
In the beginning, Jeske spoke only broken English. He’d had a couple of years of the language in his youth, taught by a German Air Force pilot who had been shot down over England during the war.
Jeske became a U.S. citizen on March 11, 1965, his fifth wedding anniversary. Today, he’s a proud American.
“There is no better country than this one,” Jeske said
Richards Sheet Metal was founded in 1928; Jeske’s first day at the shop was June 16, 1958 — he was 20. He initially did a four-year stretch as an apprentice, putting in gas furnaces and ductwork.
Although the company got its start doing heating and ventilation work, it eventually moved into precision metal fabrication — which is its bread and butter these days. It’s also what’s kept Jeske so engaged for so many years.
“I love a challenge, and that’s what I have had here,” he said. “We have done a lot of tooling to produce parts for Autoliv and others, and that tooling is the real challenge for us and me.”
Jeske concedes the job has changed over the years. At one time, he was making car parts for Volvo. Today, Jeske’s days involve a lot less welding and a lot more computer-assisted machines. (Like most 80-year-olds, Jeske doesn’t much care for computers.)
But the biggest change in 60 years of employment?
“We don’t need to cut anything out of metal with a pair of snips anymore,” Jeske said. “Now we have a laser.”
Despite working 60 years at the same company, Jeske says he’s never even been tempted to leave Richards Sheet Metal. He started out working for founder Ray Richards, and today he works for the boss’ son, Stephen Richards.
Stephen Richards is amazed by Jeske’s longevity at the job. He says Jeske is his “best technical guy” and that he can build virtually anything out of metal.
“He’s in a lot better shape than a lot of my guys,” Richards said. “And he’ll be 81 in September.”
Richards said Jeske doesn’t even have to work. He’s making a good wage but also has a pension and Social Security. Richards says Jeske is a humble man with simple tastes.
“To look at his car and his outfits, you’d think he didn’t have two dimes to rub together,” Richards laughs. “He’s extremely frugal.”
And Jeske has a job as long as he wants it, according to Richards. He says Jeske is an extremely valuable employee to the company.
“I’m not going to ask him to retire,” Richards said. “He’s very productive, and we’d be lost without him.”
The first time Brooke Zaring met Jeske, she was a shy 20-something employee, just starting out at the Ogden sheet metal company. Today, Zaring is in sales administration at Richards.
“The first time I saw him, I could tell he was trying to get my attention, so I looked up,” she recalled. “He looked at me, flipped around with his back to me, and had a potato chip on his shoulder. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder.’ ”
Bad puns and corny jokes. Jeske loves them as much as he loves his 60-year-old job.
Jeske and his wife have been married for 58 years. He spent four decades working with the Boy Scout program, which might explain his penchant for the corny jokes.
On workdays, Jeske’s dog, a 7 pound Yorkie named Duke, wakes him at 3:20 a.m.
“I set an alarm, and my dog hears the alarm and he gets me up,” Jeske said. “He gets on the bed, and depending on how deep I’m sleeping, he jumps on me to get me up.”
Jeske gets to work by 4:15 a.m., unlocks all the doors and turns the lights on.
“Then, at 4:30, I get to sit down and wait until 5,” he said.
Wait until 5?
“He can’t clock in until 5 a.m.,” Zaring explained.
In the evenings after work, Jeske says he might watch a little television — usually old westerns, like “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.”
Zaring thinks Richards Sheet Metal is Jeske’s social life.
“He loves his job, he loves everybody who works here, and everybody who works here loves him,” she said. “He feels important and needed here.”
Nobody believes Jeske will be retiring anytime soon; Zaring thinks he’ll outlast most of the people at the shop. Including her.
“I’ll be gone before he is,” Zaring said. “I’m 52, and I’ve got another good 10 to 15 years in me. But he does, too.”
Kelly Peterson, a team leader with Richards, says Jeske is a “genius” at the job. And he doesn’t think this old man will be retiring anytime soon, either.
Explained Peterson: “We say to him, ‘Hart, are you ever going to retire?’ And he says ‘I retire every night.’ ”
Jeske admits he’s slowed a bit in recent years and that, physically, “my little frame has gone downhill.” Still, bosses, co-workers and family members don’t seem to be worried about this 80-year-old man working around powerful fabricating machines.
Jeske holds up his hands and wiggles 10 hardworking fingers.
“They’re all still there,” he says with a grin. “I’m still upright, and I’m still walking. I’ve been really fortunate.”