COLUMN: Barb Gustafson — Jan. 8, 2013

Barb Gustafson
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The Samuel McLeod business awards are well established in Prince Albert as an annual celebration of success in business. But just what does “success in business” mean?

Having been involved in the organization of the awards ceremonies in the early years, I got to see firsthand how much it meant to business owners, families, and staff to have a moment in the spotlight after years of hard work. We don’t celebrate success, especially business success, that much in Saskatchewan. Our rather humble nature seems to make us say, “Oh, we were just doing our job,” when really we were doing something very important.

The winners of the Sam McLeod awards are often major long-term businesses in the city, but there are also the small shops that are honoured for job creation, new product or marketing efforts. I have often thought that the awards mean even more to the smaller businesses, since they don’t get a lot of recognition on a regular basis.

And then, there are the many, many businesses that are never recognized -- that never seek out recognition -- that really are just “doing their job” day after day, serving as examples of success in their own way.

What is business success? It’s what you, as a business owner, want it to be. If your desire is wealth, that’s your measure. If your aim is simply to be independent and work for yourself, that’s success. If the goal is to provide a living for your family, that’s a fine definition of success, too.

Among the many families that have quietly gone about their business over many years in our city is the Lederhouse family. Most of us will have seen the canteen at the Victoria Hospital, or remember the one that was at the Holy Family Hospital. We might even remember being told that the people in charge were blind, and have thought this was some kind of subsidized or make-work project. It was nothing of the sort: this was small business at its finest.

It was about 60 years ago that Phil and Ruby Lederhouse began operating canteen services, first in a government building, and then in the hospitals of Prince Albert, as a small, independent business. They provided jobs to high school students and a valuable service to patients and staff at the hospital. The business provided them with an income and independence.

Through those years of running the business, they raised three children, looked after their home, and were involved in the community. Phil was an accomplished golfer. Ruby was an active member of service clubs, and stayed busy knitting. We lived near them on the East Hill, and I have two lovely baby sweaters she gave us still tucked away.

In more recent years, after Phil’s passing, the business was run primarily by son Bryan but with help from his mom. At an age when most folks are retired, Ruby was still going off to work.

On Halloween night this year, however, the situation changed when Bryan was struck by a vehicle while walking home from work. There’s a whole other story to be told of the dangers lurking at every corner for pedestrians in our city, but that’s for another time.

His injuries will require a long recovery, and the very difficult decision was made by the family to close the business. The little canteen at the Vic Hospital is now gone.

It’s a part of the reality of small business: relying on one person, or one person plus family, for staffing makes the business vulnerable if that key person is removed. Profits and wages are slim, especially when compared to faceless vending by machines. Business theory tells us that all ventures come to an end. Nevertheless, it’s sad.

It’s sad to see an era end, just as it is when other long-time businesses close in our city It’s also a time to celebrate, however, albeit in a quiet, Saskatchewan, way.

For 60 years, a family was sustained by a business. People were served. The owners had their cherished sense of independence. Wealth? Prestige? Awards? Maybe not. Yet undoubtedly, this was a successful business by many measures, and worthy of recognition.

What makes it all the more remarkable than the average small business story is that Phil and Ruby did all these things without having what most of us take for granted: Eyesight. Despite the challenges that life handed them, they have lived as strong, resilient, independent people and set an example to be followed by their children, and beyond.  In a society where many are only too quick to call for governmental help for even short-term troubles, this family has shown how much you can do, if you try.

There is no Samuel McLeod award category for “small independent business that put food on the table for 50 years or more.” But if there was such an award, I think we’d have our winner. Congratulations on a job well done.

 

Barb Gustafson is a lifelong resident of Prince Albert and a former managing editor and publisher of the Prince Albert Daily Herald. Email: gustafsonba@gmail.com

Organizations: Prince Albert, Victoria Hospital, Holy Family Hospital Vic Hospital

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, East Hill

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  • Meridee Gasmo
    January 09, 2014 - 07:50

    My first job was at the canteen for Phil and Ruby. I could not have asked for better mentors!

  • Craig Mitchell
    January 08, 2014 - 11:13

    Well said Barb! There is a legacy award each year; this family deserves consideration at least.