On any given day at the Fremont Plant of Hormel Foods, you’ll find several dozen people wearing smiley-face stickers—proof that Mike Swanson is on the job.
According to General Manager Steve Weers, what began as a small gesture of kindness has become a big tradition at the Nebraska facility.
“One day somebody came into work kind of down. Mike takes a little label, draws a smiley face on it and sticks it to the person’s chest. He started doing it for one employee and it’s actually evolved to where he hands out 30 or 40 of them a day,” Steve says.
But recently, it was Mike’s turn to be singled out.
“They got me good,” he says. “I got called up to the office and a couple of people said, ‘Congratulations.’ I said, ‘For what?’”
Mike’s surprise came in the form of a Hormel Foods-branded jersey, the emblem of someone who lives the company values day in and day out. He was the first of the Fremont Plant employees to receive the Pride of the Jersey award. According to Steve, it wasn’t a difficult choice.
“Looking at our cultural beliefs, it’s easy to find a situation or example where Mike has demonstrated each one,” he said on the day Mike received his jersey. “There was little discussion about who should be the first to receive the jersey. Mike was at the top of the list.”
There was little discussion about who should be the first to receive the jersey. Mike was at the top of the list.Steve Weers, Fremont Plant Manager
Mike has been an integral member of the Fremont Plant team for 33 years. He currently works as a service person in the ready-to-eat area, a job he’s been doing for nearly 10 years. He’s also a member of the plant’s safety committee, which gives him another way to demonstrate the Hormel Foods values.
“Mike lives the belief of safety first, every day,” Steve says. “He … is always willing to not only point out potential issues in the area, but he usually has an idea or a solution to help alleviate the issue. He approaches each situation with the intent of ensuring we are as safe as possible.”
Mike came to the company for a practical reason. He couldn’t make a living in the family farming business during the ‘80s. Neither could he give it up. Though the farming situation improved, he soon found he couldn’t leave Hormel Foods either. Both things are in his blood.
That makes for some long days, but nevertheless fulfilling ones.
On a typical day, he’s up before dawn and at the plant in time for his 5 a.m. start. When his shift ends at 2 p.m., he heads home, grabs a “15-minute power nap” and then it’s all about farming. His day usually ends after sundown. A light day ends a few hours earlier, but there aren’t very many of those. “There’s always something to do when you’re on the farm,” he says.
It’s not an easy path, but Mike argues it’s worth it.
“There’s nothing like turning over fresh dirt,” he says.
In addition, he has help. Pamela, his wife of 37 years, pitches in to keep their 500 acres of crops going. His brother also lends a hand and in turn, Mike helps him with his 500 acres.
Lest it seem that Mike’s life is all work and no play, he points out there is time for sports, travel, family—he and Pamela have three children and seven grandchildren, all within an hour or so of their home—and leisurely drives to the watershed dam on their property.
“We jump in the truck and go see the water and wildlife. If you ever have a chance to buy a piece of property with water on it, don’t hesitate,” he says.
Believing he’s been “truly blessed,” Mike is certain of so many things in his life, save for one. He says he’s not sure why he got the jersey.
“I don’t know if I’m deserving. I really don’t know why they picked me. I just like to come in and do my job,” he says.