Working at Culligan

This is the beginning of a short series about the places where I’ve worked. There are plenty of fun memories, and an immense amount I’ve learned since I was 15. This will likely be only up to, but not including my current job. It’s not usually very ethical to talk about your current place of employment, even if it’s all positive. What’s my purpose in this? I guess it’s just “musing.” Maybe it can be an encouragement to others as well.

First, let me make it clear that the most important catalyst to me having any sense of a work ethic came from my father. Against every grain that was in me as a teenager, he pushed and prodded, pressed and punished me into having a strong work habit. I am far from being a super hard-worker, but any bit that I do have came from him. I would probably be a pretty sorry worker if it wasn’t for my dad’s encouragement to make me better. I may not have liked him making me mow the lawn right — and making me fix it when it was wrong — when I was 13, but I am out -of-this-world thankful for it today.

In September, 2001 my family built and moved into a house just south of Grand Ledge, Michigan. The well water there was very hard and always had a strong sulfur scent. We installed a water softener soon after the home was built to help alleviate the problem. Several months later — I guess it would have been about June of the next year — something broke in the system; I can’t remember what. The water was pretty horrible without the softener, so my dad called the place that installed it: Culligan Water Conditioning of DeWitt.

The person who came to repair the system, Art, quickly fixed the problem (a timer needed reset). I happened to be the only one at home when he made the service call, so he explained to me what he did. I basically just nodded my head and acknowledged that I’d let my dad know. As he was getting ready to head back to his truck, he asked if I needed a job for the summer, and told me how much they would pay. I was 15, and wasn’t all that interested, but I said that I’d talk to my dad about it and get back to him.

When my dad got home from work, I told him that Culligan had offered me a job to work for the summer. He was thrilled about it, and said that I should call back and say, “Yes!” Again, I had never really had much of a job other than shoveling some neighbors’ driveways and mowing their lawns, so I was a bit timid about the whole idea. But I was 15, and figured that it was about time for me to start working somewhere, at least for the summer.

It was about this time, right before I started at Culligan, that my dad set a firm precedent in my life that continues to this day: don’t ever let work interfere with God; this included church services and activities. I had summer camp coming up, and my dad basically said I should be honest with them right off the bat about church. I called Art the day after he offered, letting him know that I was interested. I also mentioned that I could not work Sundays (they weren’t open then anyway), Wednesday nights (again, they weren’t open then), and asked if I could wait to start a week later because of camp. He said, “Of course you can wait! Have fun at camp! We’ll see you the Monday after.” I am not overstating that that statement was life-defining for me. I would find out over the years afterward that putting God first and having principal always turned out for the best.

I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so I had to be taken to Culligan and picked up every day until I got it. My dad would usually drop me off, while my mom would often pick me up. My first day was mainly pulling weeds outside in the landscaping: lots and lots of pulling weeds. Yes, it was outside in the hot sun all day, but it was very fulfilling to put in an 8 hour day of hard work, and get payed for it on top of that! Over the coming weeks and months I was taught a lot. There were about a dozen employees at the shop total: 4 delivery drivers, 1 technician, 2 salesmen, 2 secretaries, and 2 owners who doubled as technicians. Then there was me; I took care of the shop, which included quite a lot: loading salt bags into customers vehicles, cleaning, washing company vehicles, disinfecting water coolers, and regenerating all of the older-style water softeners.

The most time consuming responsibility was the softener regeneration. It was pretty technical for a 15 year old! It started with double-backwashing the 150 lb tanks eight at a time. Sometimes the tubes would explode water everywhere, which was always fun to clean up! Then, the tanks would be hooked together 40 at a time and regenerated using a machine that would run water, salt, and sodium hydrosulfite through the steel softener tanks for about 2 hours. This would regenerate the resin in the tanks and allow them to be delivered to people’s homes again and used for another month.

steel tanks

While I regenerated the softeners, I found that I liked conservative talk radio a lot. During the summer, I would start with listening to Rush Limbaugh for three hours at noon, then Sean Hannity would come on at 3PM and I’d listen to him until I went home at 5. I kind of learned what it meant to be a conservative as a 15-16 year old in that garage! After my first summer was winding down there, Art (who was one of the owners) asked me if I could work afternoons during the school year as well. By this time, I loved my job, and definitely wanted to work during the school year. Being homeschooled made it easier to get there earlier in the afternoon as well.

Some fond memories that I had at Culligan were detailing all of the company vehicles for the DeWitt Ox Roast parade, getting to know the regular customers that would pick up salt, getting my clothes stained with chlorine all of the time, shoveling salt into the pit in the basement, shoveling snow off of the flat roof (you have to do that sometimes in Michigan if you don’t want the roof to cave in!), ordering Hungry Howie’s pizza on Tuesdays, helping with deliveries sometimes, and OSHA saying I had to wear a gas mask. The people that I worked with were all great as well.

Just as my 2 year anniversary of working at Culligan was about to pass, one of the two franchise owners passed away after a short battle with cancer. Soon afterwards our franchise merged with a larger franchise, and I lost the job that I loved! It was kind of sad for me because I loved the people that I worked with, but thankfully God had something else for me that I would enjoy even more. I was just finishing up my junior year of high school when Culligan DeWitt merged with Lansing. I knew that I had only about a year and a half before I would be going to college. I had to find another job, though, and God would give it to me much sooner than I would have ever expected…

location today

My few years at Culligan taught me what it meant to work for someone. I learned to be on time, faithful to my employer, and to get tasks done right. I was not always perfect at those things, but over time I would get better.