Rice spent 42 years at New London plant
By Scott Bellile
During his 42 working at Hillshire Brands, Dave Rice covered a lot of territory over many years.
“I’ve been all over the place,” Rice said.
Rice, who retired as a meat inspector from New London’s Hillshire plant Friday, July 31, said he worked various positions in every area in the plant but two: the now-defunct kill floor, and batch kitchen, where natural-cased sausages are prepared for the smokehouse.
Rice said he was glad that he never had to slaughter the livestock. As for batch kitchen, he said, “The foreman told me: Batch kitchen makes a man out of you.”
So Rice didn’t want to be a so-called “man?”
“No,” he replied with a laugh.
In 1973, three years after Rice graduated from Hortonville High School, his friend Dick Procknow informed him Hillshire (then called Quality Packing House) was hiring. Rice convinced the hirer that he and Procknow would work well together and was scheduled for the same sanitation shift as Procknow.
The two men worked from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and afterward played cards at Manske’s (now Bree’s Inn) until closing time. Then they went to bed and woke up for work the next afternoon.
Rice recalled his first encounter with the boss. Former plant owner Fritz Bernegger approached him to ask if he was stealing a knife. Rice, not realizing who he was talking to, mouthed off.
When he learned who he was talking to, Rice said he felt as if he shrank several sizes that day.
“‘Oh, [shoot], my days are numbered,” Rice said he thought. “Apparently I didn’t bother him because I’m there 40 years later.”
As time went on Rice said he made many friends and enjoyed his time.
“The plant [had] nice working relations and the people were great,” Rice said.
Dave Rice’s wife Kris will no longer be able to wait for his shift to end in the parking lot with the camper ready for a weekend trip like she used to.
“I’m happy for him,” Kris said. “I’ll still be working, but it’ll be fun.”
Friends Diane Rice (no known relation) and Leala Dean said they too were proud of Dave for reaching his milestone.
“He put his time in,” Diane said.
“Hopefully he enjoys it,” Dean said. “I think he will.”