By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
When he started working at Siemer Milling 46 years ago, Vernon “Red” Tegeler was just a Teutopolis High School senior looking for some extra income by cleaning in the flour mill.
In fact, Tegeler thought his plate was too full with his work on the family farm and part-time work — like parking cars at the high school ballgames.
“I got a call from Harold Kremer at the mill. It was a job as a milling helper. I was helping my dad and uncle on the farm and doing other things. I wasn’t interested at first, but my Uncle Herman said, ‘It’s a part-time job so take it.’ So I started with Bill Brumleve and we switched nights through the week.”
After he graduated from THS, Tegeler was offered more hours and eventually started working full-time in the flour mill on shift rotation. He was a quick learner and soon became a milling operator. He would be promoted later to head miller and then plant manager.
He’s now vice president and has been involved in work on planning and completing two new Siemer Milling flour plants at Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and West Harrison, Indiana. And his knowledge of flour milling operations and dedication to improving the flour milling industry are recognized across the United States, as well as in different countries.
He has also been recognized with awards by his peers, including the prestigious Gold Medal from the Association of Operative Millers (now an international organization), as well as Miller of the Year from “Milling & Baking News.”
“You can go to any flour milling manager in America and if you ask them if they know him they will say yes and how they admire him. And he is not just regarded highly nationally, but internationally in this industry as well,” said Siemer Milling President Rick Siemer.
Hans Amme is a retired milling engineer with Bühler Group, a Swiss company that is a longtime technology partner with Siemer Milling. He believes Tegeler had an insatiable curiosity when it came to learning about flour milling.
“He was the most inquisitive fellow I ever met. I never met anyone else so eager to learn. He’s the best note taker I’ve ever seen. It was in his veins to get Siemer advanced on technology,” said Amme, who lives now in Minnesota.
Amme came from Germany and has known Tegeler for 40 years. They hit it off immediately, even though their backgrounds were different. Tegeler’s family had been involved in farming around Teutopolis for generations, while Amme’s family first started milling in the fifteenth century on the Fuhse River of southern Germany. His family started in mill construction more than 100 years ago.
“When you feel comfortable with people in business, you open up and talk about doing new things,” Amme said.
“I love talking to other millers. You can learn how to improve your system. I’ve learned whatever is going on in Europe on milling will be coming to this country in a couple of years. So you bring that back over here,” said Tegeler, who has traveled about 30 times to foreign countries for Siemers or through his work with milling associations. Tegeler has served on the Technology Committee with the International Association of Milling Operatives, and was a president of the Association.
Gary Pickelmann recalled how time and again over the past 35 years Tegeler demonstrated his integrity and Christian faith. They met during a meeting of millers.
“He always does what he says he is going to do. He is a good Christian man. His faith came through when he had some medical struggles,” said Pickelmann, with Star of the West Milling Co. in Frankenmuth, Michigan. “He is by far the best friend I have in the industry.”
Siemer said the milling industry can be competitive, but a small industry willing to share ideas is emphasized. Training of new millers is also important to the different milling companies.
“Red has been very engaged in education on milling and collaboration between companies. Every mill has to train its own millers. He’s been very involved with others on training methodology,” Siemer said.
Tegeler was trained by Harold Kremer. They worked together when Siemer built a new flour mill in the late 1970s. Tegeler not only learned how to produce quality flour, but how to be a good boss as well.
“Yes, Harold was my mentor. He was a friend to everyone in the company. He took time to sit down and listen. He brought a genuine care for people,” Tegeler said. “Harold saw I was willing to work and learn. He always told me how I had a lot of potential to grow with the company.”
Gene Hille came to work at Siemer Milling in 1974 and recalled Tegeler’s friendly nature when they worked together in the older mill.
“He was always friendly to everybody. He tries to know what’s going on all the time. He’s an all-around good guy to work for,” said Hille.
About 30 years ago, Kremer and Tegeler started on the Hopkinsville flour mill project, which would place a facility near a wheat-growing region of that state. Then Kremer was diagnosed with cancer (it would claim his life in 1996) and that meant Tegeler took on additional responsibilities to move the project forward.
“I was just going to be a support person. I didn’t know about construction, but I rolled up my sleeves and got into it. I lived in Kentucky for five days a week,” he recalled.
He had to adjust to the culture of Kentucky as well. For example, that state, like many others in the South, seems to shut down with reports of an approaching snowstorm. For a resident of Central Illinois, Tegeler had to adjust his own personal weather gauge to the dreads of Dixie.
“I learned if anyone was talking snow, they’d be shutting down schools and everything. This was even before any snow had fallen. The joke was the snowplow was always on a different side of the state,” Tegeler said,
When the Hopkinsville plant opened in 1995, its full potential was realized by the community and area farmers. Siemer Milling, with Tegeler’s help, had conquered the Commonwealth with commerce and kindness. One of the wheat farmers in Kentucky developed a friendship with Tegeler and summed up the attitude best toward the Northerner’s connection.
“He told me one day, ‘You’re still a damned Yankee, but you’re the best Yankee we have down here,’” Tegeler said with a laugh.
Siemer feels the same way about Tegeler.
“I have implicit trust in what he has to say. It’s great to work with somebody like that. We’ve worked together for more than 40 years and we’re friends. It’s a partnership with total respect,” Siemer said.
Tegeler is grateful to the Siemer family for putting trust in him through the years. He also appreciates how his co-workers are dedicated to hard work and maintaining quality. In fact, it is for their benefit because the company has an employee stock ownership program.
“People are not a number here. We want every employee to feel they are part of the team, from the top management to those sweeping the floors. We want everyone to take pride in their job,” Tegeler said. “I have had a wonderful opportunity to work with a good group of people. This is not about one person. It’s about everyone.”
His work at Siemer also takes him back to his roots when he was helping on the farm. Siemer Milling is a wheat buyer, specializing in soft wheat for use in cake mixes, crackers, cookies and other bakery products. The Teutopolis mill works with regional wheat growers within a 100-mile radius. They also check into double cropping so farmers can grow wheat and then follow up with soybeans or other crops after the wheat harvest.
“We take pride on buying from local producers,” Tegeler said.
So the teenager who was first reluctant to leave the farm work might have made a highly successful career in the flour mill.
But his eye is still on farming.