April 21, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
47°F

Always ready and willing to work

MONTVILLE TWP. — There’s a job description that once was common, but today is rarely heard: “man-of-all-work.”

On a farm or in a factory, it was the person who was able to do — and most importantly, was willing to do — any job that was asked of him.

At Tiger General, which manufactures specialty equipment for the oil and gas industry, George Rapenchuk is the man-of-all-work.

Tiger General employee and Medina resident George Rapenchuk just Tiger General employee and Medina resident George Rapenchuk just celebrated his 90th birthday. He’s the “man-of-all-work” at the Montville Township company, putting in 40 hours per week running parts, shoveling snow and doing whatever job needs done. (John Gladden / Gazette)

You need a carpenter to frame up new offices, he’s your guy. You need a road warrior to transport parts to Cleveland or Columbus, he’s your guy. You need someone trustworthy to make bank deposits or lock the doors at night, he’s your guy.

Need someone to shovel snow, make the coffee, take out the trash, Rapenchuk is your man-of-all-work.

For the past 24 years, he’s put in 40 hours per week doing all those jobs and more. Tiger General estimates he’s racked up 300,000 miles on company vehicles, shoveled 6 tons of snow from the building’s sidewalks, and emptied 13 tons of trash. He’s never taken a sick day.

Oh, and here’s one more number to consider: George Rapenchuk just celebrated his 90th birthday. Wiry, with a ready smile and a strong handshake, he shows no signs of slowing down.

“He does more at 90 than most guys do at 50,” said parts manager Bob Honaker. “The day he does retire, people will realize how much he does around here. Light bulbs go out? They get fixed. Miraculously. Who does that? George.”

The key to a long working life, Rapenchuk said, is, well, work.

“You need ambition and you need stamina,” he said. “If you don’t have either one, you’re not going to make it.”

Rapenchuk, who lives in Medina, learned about work at an early age. He was born to Russian immigrant parents who ran a grocery store on Cleveland’s Orange Avenue. His father, Adam, was killed with an ice pick during a robbery in 1925 when Rapenchuk was just 5 years old. The killer was never found.

“My mother had five kids to raise,” Rapenchuk said. “It was rough.”

They moved to a Litchfield Township farm in 1929, but his mother, Celia, soon lost the farm in the midst of the Great Depression.

“That’s where I started working — out in the field with horses,” Rapenchuk said.

After they gave up the farm, he worked at Medina Farmer’s Exchange to help pay off the debt for the farm equipment they bought when the family started farming. The family moved to a Lafayette Township farm, which they ran on shares.

After graduating from Lodi High School in 1938, he worked at the Dolly Madison pickle plant in Medina — earning 35 cents an hour — before entering the Army Air Force during World War II. Rapenchuk served as an armament clerk for the 379th Bomb Group stationed in England. The only reason they made him clerk was because he knew how to type, he recalled with a laugh.

Following the service, he went to electronics school on the G.I. Bill, was a partner in a radio and TV shop in Cleveland, and later worked for the Free Oil Co. in Medina, from where he eventually retired in 1985.

Of course, “retire” is a relative term.

“George has trouble with retirement,” Mark Overholt said with a smile. He and his wife, Sherry, are Tiger General’s owners.

Rapenchuk came on as a temporary worker in 1986 to help with a parts inventory and was invited to stay. Now, he’s affectionately known as the “Head Tiger.”

“George doesn’t miss a day of work,” Sherry Overholt said. “If there’s not something to do, George finds something to do.”

Rapenchuk knows his limitations when it comes to lifting heavy objects, but he’s otherwise in top health.

He doesn’t take a single pill, he said. His wife Willene, with whom he’ll celebrate 27 years of marriage this month, has not been as fortunate. “My wife’s been in the hospital more than 100 times,” Rapenchuk said. “I work to pay the rent. That’s why I keep going.”

And he has no plans to hang up his Tiger General cap any time soon. “As long as I can work and they let me work, I’ll keep on going,” he said.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.