The Hugo Feed Mill in Hugo, Minn., has been in General Manager Steve Marier’s family since 1923. Fewer and fewer businesses in Minnesota today can trace their history back by four generations like the mill can.
And perhaps even more unusual is that its 100-year old owner, Treffle “Joe” Marier, still occasionally shows up for work. And he’s training the next generation. But his impact is going beyond how to run a mill.
Born in Minneapolis in 1919, Marier grew up in Hugo, where his grandfather had a farm. Eventually, the family bought the feed mill, and Joe Marier learned the business from a young age. He returned to the mill after a military tour during WWII to Myanmar and India. Marier still likes to recount the story of how it took the Army three tries to draft him because he was legally blind.
“Third time they drafted me, and I had been interested in radio and electronics,” the elder Marier said. He was sent to Fort Snelling to work with radios. But then his travels took him halfway around the globe. He ended up in a unit known for its courage and jungle warfare in Myanmar, then-known as Burma.
“I was in headquarters not in the front lines but I helped take some KIA’s wounded off a hill once and I was under artillery fire a couple of times,” Marier recounted.
“The Japanese had Northern Burma and they were trying to get out of Burma and our unit worked behind the top lines. We fought the Japanese in Burma, we would up just around Rangoon [a city in Myanmar] and after a couple of big battles, we drove the rest of them out of there,” he said.
These are the types of stories that impressed 32-year old employee John Jewell. Two years ago, Jewell answered an ad to work at the mill. A former drug addict, staying clean had been a struggle for him. He was in and out of treatment centers.
“When you fail so many times, the belief you have in yourself, where you think you can make it, it gets lower and lower,” Jewell said.
But Steve Marier said Jewell’s past didn’t concern him as long as he was willing to show up and do the work. After being hired, Jewell met Marier and was struck by how the then-98 year old was still coming in to work.
“I was just out there doing my job, he came up to me, ‘do you want to learn how to make screens?’ I thought, ‘yeah sure, why not?’ and we came in here, and instead of him teaching me about making screens, he told me about stuff.”
The elder Marier talked to Jewell about life, and about how he served his community in various roles from mayor to fire chief. Jewell said his earlier hopelessness slowly dissipated after hearing about all that Marier was able to accomplish in his 100 years.
And Jewell got some inspiration on how his next 68 years could look.