Caro native says he has no plans to retire anytime soon
By Rob Clark, Director of Communications and Community Relations
CARO, MICHIGAN – “Extended family.”
That’s what Jim Kurish calls his co-workers at Michigan Sugar Company’s sugarbeet processing factory in Caro. And as he celebrates his 50th year of employment with the company, that family is one of the things that continues to drive him forward.
“Sometimes I feel more at home here than I do at home,” said Kurish, 68, who came to work at the Caro factory on Sept. 28, 1970, at the age of 18. “I love the people here. A lot of characters. Where else could I go for this type of entertainment and get paid for it?”
‘I started as a crane helper’
The son of Ruth and Henry Kurish, Jim Kurish grew up on an 80-acre cash crop farm in Caro, where his family grew navy beans and wheat, as well as a little corn and hay. He was the second oldest of four children – two boys and two girls.
Jim Kurish graduated from Caro High School in 1970, put in an application at Michigan Sugar Company, and went to work in the construction industry. It wasn’t long, however, until Michigan Sugar came calling.
“I started as a crane helper, switching rail cars, unloading coal to power the factory, and keeping the coal hopper filled,” said Kurish. “Some of my dad’s friends and some of the kids I went to high school with worked here. It was close to home, the pay was good, and it was still a seven-day workweek at the time. So, it was a pretty good job for a kid.”
Kurish jumped right in and quickly caught the attention of his supervisors.
“It was a campaign job, but the bosses told me, ‘Be sure you put an inter-campaign application in.’ I did, and I was hired,” Kurish said. “I never thought it would turn into a career, but after that first campaign, it all fell into place.”
‘Steady as can be’
Kurish said after being hired full-time, his first job was working as a “sugar dumper.”
“We took 100-pound bags of sugar, ripped them open, and dumped them to make liquid sugar,” he said. Built in 1899, Michigan Sugar Company’s Caro factory is not only one of the oldest in the world, but it also is the company’s only sugarbeet processing facility where liquid sugar is made.
Over the years, Kurish would take on several other jobs at the factory, including Loader Operator and Welder. He has been in his current position of Shift Maintenance Crew Leader for 25 years.
“He’s steady as can be,” said Kevin Romzek, Caro’s Factory Manager. “He’s one of those guys who just understands what needs to be done. He fixes stuff that is broken, and you never knew it was broken or that he fixed it.
“He’ll say, ‘Ya, that pump was broken so I fixed it,’” added Romzek. “Whatever he does, you know it will be done well.”
‘Just ask Jim’
Kurish also is known as the factory historian. If you need to know when something happened or when a piece of equipment was installed or fixed, there is a common answer given by Kurish’s co-workers: “Just ask Jim.”
And over five decades, Kurish has seen plenty of changes at the Caro factory, big and small. You might be surprised by his answer when asked about the biggest change he has seen.
“The lighting,” he says matter-of-factly. “It seems like a simple thing, but this place used to be pretty dim. The lighting inside has made a huge difference.”
Of course, there also have been major factory upgrades, including the construction of the vertical silo, conversion of the coal-powered boiler to clean burning natural gas, and installation of the new No. 1 pulp press, which Kurish remembers fondly.
“I was part of Pat Wilson’s crew,” said Kurish. “We knocked out concrete floors and put in new structural steel. That was a good project.”
‘Too much fun’
This summer, Kurish will receive his 50-year recognition at Michigan Sugar Company’s annual Employee Service Awards ceremony. But don’t go thinking he won’t be back five years from now accepting his 55-year award.
“I have no plans to retire,” he said. “Sometimes I think maybe it’s time to push the pin, but I don’t have a whole lot else going on. Actually, it’s kind of scary thinking about retiring. It would certainly be a change.”
Kurish does have two adult sons – Chris, a graduate of Saginaw Valley State University who now lives in Livonia and works as a Michigan State Police trooper, and Nick, also an SVSU grad who now lives in Clio and works as a corrections officer.
He also has a few hobbies, including a small collection of vintage tractors and bulldozers he likes to work on.
“Really, I just like to work and be at home,” he said before pausing for a moment in the shop where he works inside the Caro factory.
“I just like coming to work,” he reiterated. “You know, it doesn’t feel like 50 years because I’ve been having too much fun.”