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Cargill’s Schuyler plant celebrates 50 years

September 25, 2018

Leroy Gall started with Spencer Foods Company in April 1968 and wasted no time getting to work. He was one of the many people who helped with the construction of the business’ beef processing facility just west of Schuyler.

“It was fun building it,” said Gall, who spent five decades in the plant that was taken over by Cargill Protein in 1987 on the kill floor and in the light maintenance and wastewater departments. “I helped with maintenance and things like that … we got it done.”

Fast forward about 50 years later, on Sept. 19, dozens of area residents, former and current plant employees, Cargill leaders and other state leaders packed the grounds of the local facility to celebrate its five decades of operation.

With more than 2,200 team members currently working at the Schuyler plant, according to company officials, it is easily the largest employer in Colfax County. Throughout the years, it has processed and packaged all kinds of beef products around the world. The beef products that have come out of the facility have gone on to become just about everything, including roasts, ground beef products, steaks and even leather goods.

“Anytime you can have a stable employer for your community, it’s a positive. And they’ve been stable over the last 50 years,” said Schuyler native and former state Sen. Chris Langemeier, who watched as people continued to come in and chat. “This plant has given Schuyler some opportunities and some challenges and we worked through everything. It has been good. We’re a pretty good size little town and we look forward to having people realize we’re out here.”

Numerous other state leaders were in attendance showing support, including Ginger Wilson from U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer’s office; Gov. Pete Ricketts; Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture; and state Sens. Lydia Brash and Bruce Bostelman. The latter praised the company for its efforts, noting the plant has had a tremendously positive impact on the area by staying committed to it over the years. The company’s commitment, he noted, has resulted in other businesses succeeding locally as well.

Gov. Pete Ricketts touched on that point while addressing the audience.

“Cargill is an organization that looks beyond its own success, toward the overall success of the communities where they are creating great opportunities,” Ricketts said. “They care about the people – our people – and invest in helping our communities grow. Nebraska and the great community and people of Schuyler are lucky to have Cargill.”

And though the company and its plant were the reason for the gathering, it was the people of Schuyler who were celebrated. Former and current employees, including numerous former plant managers, dozens of familiar faces from within the community, have considered the facility a second home in a lot of ways.

“This was something that was needed to be shared with the entire community because the community is the biggest part of it,” said Sammy Renteria, currently general manager of the Schuyler facility, who was happy to see a large number of people in attendance. “The great thing is you can the camaraderie between everybody …”

Renteria, who has been with the company for over 15 years, at the Schuyler site for three-and-a-half years and in his current role for eight months, stressed the people are what make the facility special.

“They’re extremely hard-working; they’re the best people in the world to get to know,” he said. “They’re engrained in what we do here, not only from their own safety but a from a food safety standpoint and that’s something you cherish as an individual who has the privilege of running this facility: The friendships and the people you meet are the best part of it.”

Brian Sikes, presidents of Cargill Protein, made the trip up from Kansas and didn’t hold back when expressing his gratitude to the local community.

“Fifty years is a big milestone and this is one of our biggest and largest and most successful plants,” he told The Telegram.

He highlighted it more specifically during his address to the crowd.

“Nebraska is not only a key state in agriculture but a key state for Cargill and our protein business. The Schuyler community has undoubtedly helped enable our success for five decades,” he said. “It’s home for our people and it’s home for their friends and family.”

Dan Jakub, who worked at the plant for 47 years before retiring three years ago this December, said the facility means a great deal to Schuyler.

“It keeps the town going,” he said. “It’s just great. It’s neat to come back here and see everybody again.”

Staying true to the theme of celebrating local people, Cargill recognized Gall for his decades of service by presenting him a gift bag and giving a rundown of his background. Although not one to want the spotlight, Gall made it clear he’ll undoubtedly always feel connected to the beef packing plant when discussing it after the presentation.

“It’s very important; it’s the heart of the community,” he said, with a smile. “It just happened. The fifty years have been good. When you put it all together, it was a lot of fun.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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