By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN He wasn’t planning to retire from TDS Telecom for a few years yet, but due to company restructuring, Tom Ollig of Winsted is looking ahead to new opportunities.
“I turned 61 Dec. 29, and my last day was Dec. 31. I was very fortunate to be in a business as long as I was,” Ollig said.
Monday, Feb. 4 will be Ollig’s first day as part-time development director at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted.
“It’s a brand new position,” Ollig said, adding that he’s also planning to do some prospecting for Flagship Insurance Services.
“I’ll probably look for something else, too,” he said. “When you work for 45 years, you can’t just turn it off.”
If one counts Ollig’s first summer job with the Winsted Telephone Company, his employment history is even longer.
“I started working there when I was 12 years old,” he said. “The first thing they had me do was go out in the country and climb from pole to pole.”
Before making a repair to a party line, Ollig would check to see if anyone was using it, and let them know it needed to be disconnected for awhile.
“Then, they’d start talking in Polish or German, so you didn’t know what they were saying,” he recalled.
Phone service has come a long way since farmers and businessmen implemented the first line to Winsted in the early 1900s.
“The line went between Winsted and Lester Prairie,” Ollig said, explaining that when the passenger train came through Lester Prairie, people could make a call to the Winsted Roller Mill, and a horse and buggy would stop by to pick them up.
Eventually, Ollig’s great-uncle purchased the telephone line, and sold the company to Ollig’s grandparents in the 1930s.
Ollig’s father, John, grew up in the business and later became the owner. After John’s passing in 1982, Ollig, his brothers Mark and Michael, and their mother, Therese, ran the company until its sale to TDS Telecom in 1993.
At TDS, Ollig served as general manager in Winsted, and later as general manager for the Monticello area. About six years ago, his title changed to market manager.
Most recently, Ollig and another employee, Al Ripp, served parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
“I really enjoyed it all,” Ollig said of his job. “What I’ll miss most are the people I worked with.”
Ollig was one of 22 market managers nationwide at TDS. All 22 were eliminated, and a new structure was implemented with 10 new positions available. Rather than apply for one of those, Ollig decided to take the severance package and pursue a new career path.
“Of the 22 of us, 17 took the package now they have to hire,” he said.
Many of the employees had a long history with TDS.
“We figured out that in our group, about 400 years of experience went out the door for TDS,” Ollig said.
TDS is a well-run company, Ollig said, adding that he understands why the restructuring occurred.
“The telephone business is changing,” he said.
Because of the widespread use of wireless phones, TDS is becoming more of a “data company” instead of a “voice company,” offering data storage for large corporations.
“TDS is also getting into cable TV now,” Ollig said, adding that it might be implemented in Winsted this year.