LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
by BRYAN ZOLLMAN
When describing the relationship between the father-son duo Rich and Derek Essler, one could say it’s “electric.”
Bad jokes out of the way, the story of the elder and younger Essler is one that portrays a strong and close bond between a father and his son who has followed in his footsteps.
Not only are both electricians who service the Sauk Centre and surrounding area, as of this month, both are master electricians.
“Every day is a challenge in this industry,” said Rich. “Every day there is something different.”
That is what Derek likes about the job and the career path he chose.
“I couldn’t sit behind a desk all day,” he said. “With this job you get to be outside and moving around. I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees or freezing out, I’d rather be outside than in an office.”
When Rich Essler started studying to be an electrician, it was for two reasons–it was a way to get off the family farm and it was a job that presented that daily challenge. After graduating from Brooten High School, he attended St. Cloud Technical College to learn the electrician trade. After graduation he worked for Don’s Electric and Jim’s Electric in Sauk Centre for eight years combined before reaching his master status.
That was in 1983 when Essler Electric was born. Just three years earlier, Derek Essler was born and one day, he too, would go down the same path as his father.
“He started working for me when he was in the ninth grade, but the only way I could get him to come to work is if I let him drive the truck out in the country,” joked the elder Essler. “No, really, he has had a great work ethic from the beginning.”
After performing minor duties like running wire and installing boxes and outlets, Derek started learning more about the trade throughout high school, although he was still unsure of what he wanted to do as a career. When he graduated high school in 1998 he went to Anoka-Ramsey Community College where he played baseball and tried his hand at theatre arts.
“I tried to get into acting, but it was a tough market,” said Derek. “But I was fortunate to have Dad’s business to fall back on.”
With four years’ experience already under his belt, Derek decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and eventually studied to be an electrician. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The duo has worked together full-time for the past decade. Rich still does all the bidding and both work out in the field. Working with his son is something the elder Essler, now 62, cherishes. Especially after being so busy while Derek and daughter, Shannon, grew up that it allows him to spend quality time with his son.
“It’s very cool,” he said. “I enjoy the camaraderie of hanging out with him.”
They must enjoy each other’s company because not only do they work side by side for 50-plus hours per week, they also are on the same bowling team, golf together and hang out at the family cabin together.
“Yeah, we’re at the point where we can pretty much read each other’s minds,” joked Derek.
Derek said working for his dad has been fun, although probably different than if he had worked with a different company where his father wasn’t also his boss.
“Working with him is like working with any other co-worker, although I may have an easier time speaking my mind to him,” said Derek. “And he has an easier time telling me what to do!”
The two are easily able to separate work and pleasure. When the workday is done, it’s done and they do their best not to bring it home with them or to the family cabin where they spend weekends relaxing.
“When we’re at the cabin, it’s cabin time,” said Derek.
Working for and with his dad has been beneficial to Derek in many ways.
“He’s a good teacher,” he said. “Knowing my boss as well as I do probably makes me more apt to listen and learn, and him being my dad also likely make him more understanding and patient.”
Whatever formula the two have come up with works. Essler Electric specializes in light commercial, residential and industrial work and has had no problem staying busy over the years. While it has usually been just the two of them in the field, they have had as many as two additional employees.
At 62, Rich is eyeing retirement as winters in Texas and Arizona become more appealing to him and his wife, Barb. Derek, who is married to Jessica Minette (owner of Shear Paradise), is now a master and can take over the family business when Rich does decide to retire for good.
When he does, it will be a bittersweet day for both men who have grown closer each day working side by side.
“We try to have a good time at work,” said Rich, noting how many of their daily conversations revolve around professional or college sports, or how each of them shot in their golf league on Monday nights. “He does his thing and I do mine and we meet in the middle to get the job done.”
While most fathers and sons go their separate ways after the son graduates college and starts a career and they see each other only sparingly at family functions and holidays, the Esslers remain closer now than they have ever been.
A mutual love for the work they do together has only helped strengthen an already strong bond between the two.