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Dehne Lawn & Leisure
Northbrook Star News
April 5, 2007
By KEN GOZE Staff Writer

His job keeps Jim Pantle out of sight and perhaps, out of mind. He starts at 5 a.m. each day in a blue-collar uniform, working mostly solo behind a door labeled "employees only." He's not the guy with the corner office whose portrait is in the company's annual report, and he never will be.

He's not the type to seek recognition, but given his 40 years on the job, his employer figures he's earned it.

The 73-year-old has worked at Dehne Lawn & Leisure since 1967, repairing countless lawnmowers and snowblowers and string trimmers.

The company last week gave one of its limited-edition garden tractors to Pantle, who is far and away its longest-tenured employee. The current owners, the fourth to operate the business, have only been there 19 years. The late Ralph Dehne started it more than 50 years ago.

Pantle is "as much an institution as the Dehne name," said Mike Keblusek, whose family now runs the business. "It's not a glamorous job, but I think there's something really honorable about somebody that can really be a worker and be reliable and dependable and selfless. Personally I don't think there's enough of that going around these days."

In his workshop on Friday, Pantle was doing what he's done for most of the past 10,000-plus workdays, tuning up and repairing mowers and tractors. A pile of chain saws and smaller equipment awaited him on a nearby bench. His tools and machines are kept in neat rows. The air is filled with the smell of gasoline, two-cycle oil and dead grass.

Pantle said he met the Dehne family back in the 1960s, when he was working as a mechanic and snowplow driver. He said Dehne invited him to come to work, and he had grown tired of plowing; the blizzard of 1967 was the last straw.

Eventually both Pantle's late father and his brother, both named Wally, came to work for Dehne as well.

Later, his sons Kenny and Steve spent summers working there. They now run their own auto repair shop, Finish Line Automotive in Prairie View. He also has two daughters, Nancy Wilson-Dietz and Julie Piazzi. Wilson-Dietz said work has always been a central part of her father's life, and has become even more important since her mother's passing. When he's not working at Dehne, he's with family or in his garage at home fixing engines as a hobby and side business, accompanied by his pug, Sandy.

"It's kept him going. He goes to work, comes home to his dog, gets up goes to work. I don't think he's going to retire," Wilson-Dietz said.

Pantle still lives in his Deerfield home of 45 years and mows his own lawn. He sold off about half of a yard which once ran nearly 300 feet deep, but it's still big enough to allow him to use his new tractor.

His wife, Carol, did four years ago. That's part of the reason he continues working, he said: "I like the work, and if I retired, what am I going to do every day?"

Fixing small engines is easier on one's back than fixing vehicles, but Pantle said it requires a certain amount of patience auto mechanics may lack. The little engines are complicated, and have their own systems of springs and governors and carburetors that can stick, or break. Modern designs have made mowers more safe and more user-friendly, but Pantle said today's devices often are more sensitive to weather changes and hard use, and their multiple safety systems add to their complexity.

With the summer season just around the corner, Friday was a busy one. By day's end, about 20 mowers were on one side of Pantle's bench, ready to be picked up. But the back of his shop was still full of machines awaiting his attention.

They would be there early Monday morning, and so would he.

50 Years and Counting
Dehne Lawn & Leisure, Inc.

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