At 95 years old, Marian Beisser isn’t ready to retire any time soon.
She has been a pillar of Beisser Lumber Company ever since she and her husband founded the business in 1953, with one employee and a $2,500 investment.
Today, she continues to keep the accounts for the business which has grown into three locations across Iowa and 155 employees.
“She’s been a lifetime bookkeeper here, and she’s still doing it,” said Joe Kayser, Fort Dodge branch manager for Beisser Lumber.
The work has changed.
“It’s increased,” Beisser said. “I do collection letters for all three yards.”
With her eyesight beginning to fail, Beisser makes use of a magnifyer screen. She gets a ride to work at 7 a.m. sharp four days a week, usually working until 1 p.m. She’s a familiar face around the office, often bringing in cookies for her workers.
She started out working in bookkeeping from home, while her husband Fred Beisser began with an order of two truckloads of shingles.
“We never took a salary for the first five years,” Marian Beisser said. “We just took enough to eat, and put it all back in. It just kind of grew by itself.”
They were living with Marian’s mother back then, she said, and running the business from a small building next door to the current Fort Dodge warehouse.
“We had no money. We paid $70 a month for our rent,” she said. “There were rats in that building; I hated it. It was an old hatchery.”
Marian Beisser grew up knowing how to work.
“I was born east of town, on a farm,” she said. “I loved that farm work. I should have been a boy. I was never in the house with my mother.”
Beisser recalled shocking oats, picking corn, and squirting milk into the cats’ mouths while she was milking the cows.
“I had more in the cats’ face than I had in the pail,” she said.
Marian Beisser and Fred graduated from high school together in Fort Dodge in 1940. Fred Beisser went into the merchant marine, and traveled all over the world.
He won a meritorious award for taking a ship full of ammunition out of the dock that was burning, Marian Beisser said.
They married in 1946 after he returned, and Fred Beisser worked at a number of lumber and hardware stores.
“Fred had a couple jobs, went from one to the other, then got discouraged and decided to start his own,” Beisser said.
The couple had saved up $2,500, and put that toward the business. With that first rented location, Fred Beisser bought and sold two truckloads of shingles–but the new company suffered from a bank error.
“The check didn’t go through. They put it in the wrong account,” Beisser said. “So when the two truckloads came we had no money.”
Times were tight. If people didn’t pay their bill, the business could have been over, Beisser said.
“Fred would go out. He was rough. They say he was really tough when he got to the door and they owed money,” Beisser said. “He wasn’t very nice, I don’t think. But he knew he had to have that money, to come back and pay for those shingles.”
Collecting money may make for awkward conversations, but it’s something both Beissers knew needed to be done. Marian still sends out letters when needed today.
“They say they get my nasty letter,” she said. “Kim called me one day, and he said, Mom don’t harass those people with that letter. I said Kim, they’ve got my money, and they’ve got my materials. They’re going to give me one of them.
“Either bring the material back, or pay your bill. Isn’t that fair?”
Kim Beisser, Marian’s son, is the one who expanded the business to Grimes and Coralville.
Marian Beisser also has always had a big heart for helping people, Kayser said.
“She’s helped dozens of customers who have got a financial need,” Kayser said. “She just says you don’t have to pay us. We’ll absorb it.
“Any service group that comes in here, I could go on and on — Sertoma, Knights of Columbus, the Elks, they come in and ask for it and she writes them a check.”
Fred and Marian were integral in bringing Northwoods Living to Fort Dodge, Kayser said.
Dick Haack, who started working at the company in 1957, had two children with intellectual disabilities, and had to travel all the way to Mason City to see them.
“Marian and Fred gave that land to build that facility there,” Kayser said. “Fred thought it would be good if he didn’t have to drive so far. So they built Northwoods Living in Fort Dodge because Fred and Marian gave them the land.”
The home for people with disabilities is now managed by One Vision.
Marian Beisser keeps in good health, doing simple exercises and stretches every morning before work.
“My mother is 81, and she can’t get into a pickup. But Marian’s got muscles,” Kayser said. “Her son stopped her from riding the delivery trucks into Des Moines.”
“I’d like to get back into that again,” Beisser said. “I may, before the end.”
She’s never had a sick day in her time there, except for some days after she had a fall, and when she was in a nursing home.
“I’ve been fortunate. I’m not on any medication except eye drops,” Beisser said. “I had to go to the nursing home for a month. They wanted to operate, and I said no way.
“The doctor said chances are you won’t live. Ten percent live with a ruptured spleen. I said, if he wants me I’m ready to go. Here I am. He didn’t want me yet.”
Beisser’s faith has always been important to her. She’s been a member of First Baptist her whole life, and her great-uncle was the second minister there. Beisser taught Bible studies and Sunday School for kids, and has held “I don’t know how many offices,” she said.
She’s not leaving the office any time soon.
“I’m not old enough. I’m only going to be 69 this September,” she joked. “I was 59 last September — they made me a beautiful cake. ‘Happy 59th’. This year I figure I’ll get the cake with ‘Happy 69’, which will be 96.”
“I love it. I love coming in every day,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate with health, but I’m losing my eyesight. … I can’t sew, I can’t read. The television can drive you nuts.
“I’ve got these guys. They’re so good, they’re like my grandsons,” she added. “I can walk out and say is anybody going my way? I’m sure they’d all say I’ll take you.
“I can’t ask for more than that. So why retire, and sit at home by myself?”