Zach Fridell/special to the Pilot & Today
Wendell Hicks stands in Steamboat Lumber on Friday. Hicks is celebrating his 45-year anniversary at the store, where he started working when he was 27.
Steamboat Springs Wendell Hicks is an icon at Steamboat Lumber.
A regular employee since 1963, Wendy, as he is known to friends and customers, has worked through nine U.S. presidents and six managers of the lumber yard, not including the years he worked as manager of the store.
"You name it, and I've done it. From grunt to manager and back," he said Friday, as he sat in the break room in front of an ice-cream cake commemorating his 45th anniversary working with the company.
Hicks, 72, said he began working at the lumber store when he was 27, after a call from the unemployment office.
"They said the lumber yard had a load of steel to unload. I'm still trying to unload that steel," he said.
The real reason he has kept coming back even after he reached retirement age is the customers, he said, who have come to rely on Hicks' understanding of their needs.
Richard Sorenson, the current manager, said Hicks often understands the customers' needs even if they are unclear of how to express it.
"A lot of the old-timers come in here, and he just knows what they want," he said. "Even if they might not call it by the right name, he knows where to go to get it and who to talk to."
One regular customer, Del Herman, said he's been working with Wendy for more than 40 years and keeps returning to Steamboat Lumber out of loyalty.
"Wendy Hicks' first screw-up was the first job he worked for me," Herman said. "We were unloading 1-by-4s, and he dropped them over a big embankment, and we spent the rest of the night pulling them back up."
Despite that mishap, Herman has continued to work with Hicks, calling him a "top-of-the-line character."
Hicks moved to Steamboat Springs from Denver when he was 6 and has been married to his wife, Beth, for 47 years. He has three children and two grandchildren, ages 6 and 10, who all live in town.
When Hicks reached retirement age seven years ago, he quit, only to be rehired with shortened hours in order to keep his benefits.
Now, he works 30 hours a week, a hard timetable to keep, he said.
"Have you ever tried to work a 30-hour week? You can't do it," he said. "Why quit at seven-hour days? You've always got something in the bucket."
Hicks said a key part of his success is leaving work every day with a clear mind.
"I can't leave stuff undone. I don't want to come back the next day and look at it."
The job also gives him plenty of exercise and activity four days a week.
"If I didn't have something to do like coming to work, I don't know what I'd do," he said. "I've seen too many people who have worked, retired and died a couple years later. I don't want to do that. I'm not ready."
So, although the company gave him the rest of the day off Friday, Hicks said he'd be back at work today.