Stihl in America – Blog 5 – Joe
Joe’s story is important for two reasons—Joe was an essential member of the foundational team of Stihl American, and Joe’s story is typical of the time. People worked hard, adapted, and made their own success. Joe’s story is significant but not necessarily unique. Most Americans are descendants of people who immigrated to America from another country. America is a filtered melting pot of people looking to build a better life for themselves and their family.
Joseph John Mlnarik was born 1896 in the small village of Zilina, state of Trencin, Slovakia. Joe’s family operated a small flour mill and had done so for several generations. In Slovakia, Mlnar translates to Miller. It’s not clear which came first, the name or the vocation.
Once Joseph reached the age of 18 he boarded a steam ship for the week long voyage to Ellis Island, America. A couple of his friends had already done so, settled in Garfield, N.J, and invited Joseph to join them. Once reaching Ellis Island Joseph had to pass a rigorous health screening, and coming from Southern Europe, had to pass a political screening, the result of laws put in place following the assassination of President McKinley by an American person of Slavic heritage. After close scrutiny, Joseph was allowed entry to America as Joseph Minarik.
Joseph joined his friends in Garfield, and not straying far from his roots, began working in mills, beginning with a nearby woolen mill. Joseph followed opportunity and work, moving to Pennsylvania to work the steel mills, then to Massachusetts’ woolen mills, and finally back to Garfield where he met Barbara Pisarcik.
Barbara Pisarcik was born 1905 in the small village of Frankova, state of Spisska, Slovakia. Following the devastation of WWI and losing both parents at a young age, Barbara boarded a ship to Ellis Island, America. She joined older siblings who’d already immigrated and settled in Garfield. Barbara, followed a similar path as that of Joseph, first settling in Garfield, then moving to Pennsylvania for work, and then back to Garfield.
By 1925 Joseph found a vocation that promised steady work and one for which there would always be a need, digging graves. He and Barbara, sharing a native tongue and heritage, found that the significant things, they shared in common. Joseph and Barbara were united in marriage in 1925 and had three daughters and finally a son, born 1931, who they named Joseph. In 1932, in the midst of the great depression, Joseph and Barbara, on a grave digger’s income, built a small but sufficient New England house they called home in East Patterson, N.J.
Lodi High School served several local communities, many of them populated by Americans having emigrated from Southern Europe. While attending Lodi, Evelyn Giba caught Joe’s eye. He learned later that her parents had traveled a similar journey as his. It took some convincing, Joe bragged, but he finally convinced Evelyn, that they too had the significant things in common and they became a couple. One of the significant things they shared was never having met or knowing any of their grandparents, typical of immigrants at the time. This dynamic resulted in close and tight families and ethnic centric neighborhoods.
Joe’s natural sense of responsibility came early. When he wasn’t courting Evelyn, he paid close attention to his high school industrial arts teacher and quickly developed a superior skill at wood working. His instructor, recognizing Joe’s passion and advanced skill level, eventually utilized Joe as an assistant instructor. So, Joe, as a student, was also an instructor.
It took Joe a few years to muster the courage to pop the question, but sometime during the fall of 1951 he proposed. Days after their engagement, the country in the midst of the Korean War, Joe was served his draft notice. Joe and Evelyn, short on funds and time, were united in marriage in 1952 in a small informal ceremony with the Mayor of East Patterson presiding.
Possibly due to his bi-lingual skills and Southern European heritage, Joe was shipped to Germany rather than Korea. And as luck would have it, Evelyn was able to join him during his station in Germany. After completing his military obligation, Joe and Evelyn returned to East Paterson and lived with her parents until they could afford their own place. The first child, a son, was born in 1957. He too was named Joseph. Four years later they were blessed with another son, Robert, and four years later a daughter, Lynn.
The skills Joe acquired in high school served him well. Following his honorable discharge from the Army Joe found work first at a lumber mill shaping door and window moldings, and eventually building cabinets. Eventually, Joe and Evelyn had saved enough money to acquire a shop Joe could call his own. Joe’s quality craftsmanship was in high demand and the business grew—he needed more space. Alas Joe acquired a 3200 square foot abandoned warehouse giving him plenty of space to build all kinds of cabinets and furniture for a variety of clients. In fact, the building was more than he needed.
It was 1962 when another East Paterson, N.J. business had grown to the point of needing its own space. Due to a local slow-down in the economy, Joe’s business began to slow. So, Joe then having space available for rent and contacted by Gordon Williams took advantage of the opportunity and adapted.
Following the creation of Stihl American, Victor Koesler was sent from Germany to manage receiving, shipping, technical training, and function as a liaison between Stihl American and Stihl Germany. Joe and Victor became close friends.
Victor quickly realized that Joe was more than a landlord and hired Joe to build cabinets specific to Stihl American needs. Joe, seeing that Victor was unable to do his job singlehandedly, spent extra time at Stihl American, on a volunteer basis, helping Victor with warehouse duties. Gordon and Harding, finally realizing that Victor needed more help to ship units for Gordon and parts for Harding, offered Joe a job. The $100 per week offer was less money than Joe was making in his cabinet shop but Joe says he sensed that he was getting on board with something that would eventually be worth the sacrifice. This prescient sentiment would be sensed and echoed by many others before the end of the decade.
Victor eventually returned to Germany and in his place came Rainer Glockle. Rainer, Joe says, was not so hot in the warehouse but God’s gift to everyone’s daughter. Rainer, as it turns out, was not in his element in the warehouse, but ingenious with regards to technical issues, and was a God send for those in technical service all across America and also very popular with the ladies. Rainer, a larger than life blonde haired and blue eyed German, will have his own blog.
32 Bushes Lane, East Paterson, N.J. became the first Stihl American location, renting the space from a cabinet maker, Joe Minarik, who eventually became the warehouse manager and general jack of all trades.
Shipping and receiving in those days was not as homogeneous as today. UPS didn’t reach all parts as quickly as today and some parts not at all. Parcel post was expensive, slow, and unreliable. Joe improvised when necessary and frequently made trips to the bus station to put critically needed items on a Greyhound bus bound for customers such as Osage Indian Chief Jack Beatty in Denver, Colorado or places further west.
Joe was never given credit for the first handheld blower prototype. He once cobbled together a fan mechanism and a Stihl model 08 chainsaw. Sometime after Stihl American ceased to exist and had been taken over by Stihl Inc. of Virginia Beach, Joe gave his prototype to a Stihl marketing executive. The blower wasn’t’ seen for a couple of decades and eventually discovered in a California warehouse, by then further modified. The blower now hangs in Stihl’s Virginia Beach warehouse.