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Try 50 years on for size

Char Neff stands with her plaque recognizing her 50 years of service to Red Wing Shoe Co. (Republican Eagle photo by John Russett)

With somber images from Dealey Plaza just weeks old and the nation readying itself for the arrival of four mop-topped musicians from Liverpool, Char Neff prepared for her first day of work at Red Wing Shoe Co.

Fifty years later, Neff sat in a conference room on the second floor of Plant 2 and reflected – rather humbly – on her time with the company.

The Beginning

Neff was born in Red Wing and grew up in Zumbrota. After she married, Red Wing became home.

“That seems like a long time ago,” she said.

Neff said she started with Red Wing Shoe when Plant 2 was an experimental factory located behind the St. James Hotel.

She was assigned to a sewing machine where she closed the lining in the back of the shoe in a process called zig-zagging.

There were no big lines of work like there are now and none of the work was style-specific to any one type of boot or shoe, she said.

“You just did up the work and then they brought you more work,” she said.

Continuing the work

Neff said she soon became the auxiliary person, called a floater now, where she worked multiple jobs and trained other co-workers in the plant.

After 15 years she signed on for jobs no one else wanted because the work was really hard to do, she said. Neff worked that position for over 25 years.

“I seem to stay put for a length of time,” she said.

Neff said she spent a lot of her time working on the style number 877 boot, one the boots which helped Red Wing Shoe Co. reach recognition worldwide.

Reflections on 50 years

“I just wonder where the time went, that’s for sure,” Neff said. “My dad always said the older you get the faster time goes, and it’s so true.”

She said there hasn’t been any special formula for working as long as she has.

“I don’t know, I guess I just needed a job, a paycheck,” Neff said. “Somebody needed to pay the bills.”

Over the years Neff said she always approached her work with the same attitude.

“It’s a job, it’s a responsibility so I have to do it,” she said. “I guess I’m just used to it.”

Neff said a lot has changed since she first moved to Red Wing.

“I can remember Christmastime, the month of December you could not find a place downtown to park,” she said, adding that is one of the biggest changes she has seen in Red Wing.

Moving Plant 2 from downtown to the current location on Cannon River Avenue was a big change for a lot of the employees and the company, Neff said.

Neff also said the strike in the mid-1970s, which lasted for about a month, was a trying time.

Neff and her coworkers were listening to the radio and wondering if they would get back to work, she said. When she heard the news and knew she was going back to work she breathed a sigh of relief.

That was the only time strike during her 50-year tenure, she said.

The future

Once she does decide to retire, Neff said she would like to dedicate her time to volunteer work, adding there are a lot of places in need of help.

The people will be missed when it comes time to leave the plant, she said.

Until then, Neff will continue to do what she’s done for five decades.

“I just come to work every day and do what I’m told and go home,” she said.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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