By Jackie Nelson
Gerald Leinbach stepped out Excel’s doors for the last time after over half-a-century of employment. However, his legacy continues with all three of his children, Karen Hiebert, Kelly Leinbach and Terry Leinbach, along with his granddaughter, Crystal Weaver, working at Excel Industries.
Even his wife, Lois, worked for Excel Industries before their children were born.
On December 22, Gerald was given a surprise sendoff, complete with his whole family in attendance and a super-sized limo to ferry him away to a family meal.
“To see his face when he walked out, that was pretty cool,” said Kelly.
“It was a total surprise. It swept me away. I didn’t know it was coming” said Gerald.
Rick Weaver presented Gerald, not with the traditional gold watch, to honor his retirement but with a SmartWatch in recognition of his years of dedication to advancing technology at Excel.
“It was the perfect sendoff. There’s a mutual respect between me and everyone that works there,” said Gerald.
As for why Gerald stayed with Excel for 52 years, he said simply, “When your skills meet your passions, you are happy, and that’s what happened.”
The family’s history at Excel Industries began not with Gerald, but his wife.
“I was working at Excel to put him through college,” said Lois. Lois worked in the accounting department and would share work stories with her husband.
“She would describe the accounting stuff going on and that was my field. I thought, ‘I can do better than that.’ It was one of those things, you saw an opportunity,” he said.
As soon as a job came open, Lois informed her husband.
Gerald, who was hired by Excel founder Roy Mullet and head of accounting Lloyd Zook, began in the accounting department. But, within a year, was tasked with establishing the first computer system for the company. For 28 years, he headed the first IT department for Excel.
“Back then it wasn’t called IT. It was data processing,” he said.
Gerald was chosen to head the new department due to his experience with the new technology though Mennonite Central Committee’s in-service.
“I had used the equipment and no on else had ever seen it,” he said.
When he began, Gerald learned programming using punchcards and six of his prized computers took up an entire room.
“We hauled it down stairs with a wrecker. Henry eased it down the stairs with his wrecker,” he said.
Kelly said, as technology was beginning to make its debut at Excel, it was replacing hand-written lists.
“They used to do their inventory by hand on a blackboard,” he said.
Over the years, Gerald saw many dramatic changes and expansions of the company.
“The first one I’d note is at t he turn of the century we changed from making the main part of our business cab business and making product for John Deere - that went away and we went to strictly mowers,” he said.