by Dennis Dalman
On her birthday, on her last day of work, Sandy Paggen of rural St. Stephen gave a flurry of hugs to a circle of misty-eyed co-workers, then looked out the front door, and through eyes still wet with tears, she saw a sleek white stretch limo parked there.
Someone unrolled a red carpet from the limo.
Paggen, still inside the lobby, gasped when she realized the limo was waiting for her. A wellspring of tears mixed with giggles followed as she opened the lobby door to be greeted with cheers by family members.
“I’m shocked, I’m totally shocked,” said Paggen, who looked as if she were trying to awaken from a dream. “This is not happening! Is it?”
It happened at Wiman Plastics, Paggen’s longtime work place in Sauk Rapids Industrial Park. In 45 years, Paggen was never late for work, not even once.
The stretch limo was only one of the many sneaky big surprises in store for Paggen on Feb. 9. Earlier, Brian Evenson, operator/manager of Wiman Plastics, had catered a meal for all of the employees from Famous Dave’s, in honor of Paggen’s retirement.
“That was the first surprise,” Paggen said.
Then along came the limo. It whisked her and family members to Grand Casino to enjoy some rounds of gambling.
“I came out 36 cents ahead,” Paggen said later, laughing.
After dining at a restaurant, the partying family bundled back into the limo and headed back home, just south of St. Stephen. On the way, someone suggested, what the heck, why not stop for a quick drink at Howie’s Bar in St. Stephen?
When Paggen entered Howie’s, she totally lost it, dissolving into tears. There, right in front of her, all cheering and singing, were brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and some co-workers. The bar was jam-packed with celebrants, not surprising since Paggen (nee Skroch) is third in a family of 14.
They sang Happy Birthday; they sang Happy Retirement; a bouquet of roses was presented; and Paggen stood there crying.
“I cried like a baby,” she said. “I’ve never been so surprised. It was overwhelming.“
Raised on a farm between St. Stephen and St. Wendel, Sandy Skroch graduated from Holdingford High School in 1972. The very next day, she started work at Stearns Manufacturing, then eight months later began work at Fingerhut in St. Cloud.
When Fingerhut closed in 2000, three men there bought a plastics division from the company and opened what they dubbed Wiman Plastics in Sauk Rapids, named for (Wi)lliam and (Man)dy. The company produces huge rolls of various plastic sheeting that’s shipped out in giant semis to companies far and wide. The plastic is used to make a variety of products, many of them medical devices such as blood-pressure cuffs.
Paggen worked in the shipping department.
Many have asked Paggen how in the world did she manage never to be late for work in 45 years.
She attributes it to many factors: her solid central Minnesota work ethic; having to get up early to milk cows in her younger years; her love of the morning hours; her husband Ray’s tractor, snow bucket and his plowing out their long driveway in the wee hours.
Many a slippery, foggy or snow-flurry morning, Paggen braved the roads to get to work, a 25-mile drive from home.
“Foggy mornings were the worst,“ she recalled.
There’s another reason Paggen was never late for work, a reason she divulges in a computational whisper, followed by a mischievous giggle.
“Sometimes, OK, I’ll admit I fudged on the speed limit,“ she said. “Sshhh!”
One of Paggen’s previous co-workers is Althea Heim of Sartell, who started work at Fingerhut just a few months after Paggen.
The two have been the best of friends ever since.
“Sandy has the best sense of humor,” Heim said of Paggen.
“She is my best friend ever,“ Paggen said of Heim. “I like everything about her. A true friend – honest and loyal. Through(out) the years, we’ve been through so many weddings, births, baptisms, funerals.
Paggen asked Heim how she is going to cope with retirement.
Heim told her not to worry, that there will be plenty to do.
“It will be a whole ‘nother journey,“ Heim said.
Paggen plans to do the simple things that make life a blessing, such as sitting on her porch in warm bright mornings, her cats and dogs all around, just watching the sun come up, sipping a cup of coffee, watching the flitting birds.
“Now I’ll be able to do that,“ she said. “I can sit there in my bathrobe and watch the sun come up.”
She will have more time for family, too.
She and Ray, a retired self-employed house builder, have three children: Danny, Nancy and Amanda. And they have four grandchildren: Paige, Lily, Sylvie and Wylie.
Two days after her birthday and retirement, Paggen was still pinching herself, still flabbergasted by the many surprises that were sprung on her out of the blue.
“Usually, nobody can pull the wool over my eyes,“ she said. “Oh no! But that day they sure did. And more than once. It was a great shock of a day. But that’s OK because it was wonderful, so wonderful to be surprised by so many people I love.”