I first met Lou Dinnella on a snowy winter day in 1975. He was an easy-going guy and I liked him immediately. He and his partner owned a truck repair shop in downtown Brooklyn. We loved them because we could bring them our toughest truck repairs and they'd make the expert repair and have our truck back on the road quickly.
What was amazing was they did this excellent work in a garage that had no heat! Lou and his partner spent most of their days outside welding and doing repairs in the cold, so they figured why bother with heat? They had grown accustomed to working outdoors in all types of weather.
They did have a 55-gallon drum filled with pieces of scrap wood burning just outside the overhead garage door. It was designed for their guests to take the bite off a numbingly cold day. It was their way of being hospitable.
The remarkable thing was that this cold garage always felt warm. It was filled with the warmth that any customer would feel in the presence of Lou. He always had a smile. He loved to satisfy a customer and he loved doing expert work, especially the tough jobs.
One day in 1978, Lou told me that he and his partner had decided to close the business due to his partner's failing health. I asked Lou if he'd consider coming to work for my company.
He chuckled and said, “I'm 63 years old. Why would you want someone my age?”
“Because I know what you can do and I love how you do it,” I answered. “You'd be a great influence on our other truck mechanics and we could really use your skills. Why don't you come and try it out for a while? If you like it, stay for as long as you like.”
And that's how Lou came to work at our shop.
Within a week of arriving, Lou got a terrible cold. He told me it was because he was unaccustomed to working in a heated garage all day and he didn't know how to dress properly. He also assured me that he wouldn't be missing any work because he was sick and that he'd learn to dress better in the future.
Old SchoolLou began to teach and certify the others on welding, brazing and truck repair. The young guys sat at his feet to soak up all they could from this new hire. They all knew they couldn't fix, repair or fabricate anything like Lou!
Periodically, we would be stuck and need something like a large steam header on a big commercial boiler welded. Lou would cheerfully come to the rescue. This was just one of the many things we loved about Lou. He was always willing to do something new. You'd never hear, “It's not my job.”
Once, he fell off the ladder while welding and he had to miss a couple of weeks of work. Lou would limp in to the office every week and complain to my brothers and I about how miserable he was. He wasn't miserable about the pain from his injuries. He was miserable because it kept him from doing the work he loved.
Lou was “old school.” He was incredibly respectful. My dad, his contemporary in age and energy, for years begged him to call him Irving just like everyone else did. Lou would say he'd try, but he'd always go back to calling my dad Mr. Levi. It just felt right to him.
When we moved from our old shop to our new showroom location in 1991, Lou sold his home to move closer to our new office.
He was always an early riser, so most mornings when I'd arrive at 6:30 a.m., I'd find Lou sleeping in his car. Lou couldn't wait for me to come and open up. It was 6:30 a.m.! He couldn't wait to see what new thing would need his special skills.
He also loved the people. He loved his co-workers and anyone else who would come by the garage to sell us something. Lou learned a long time ago that work was meant to be fun and challenging.
You may be thinking that's a nice story about a former employee. Wrong!
Lou just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company. He is 88 years young. And every day that he's at work makes it a better day for everyone else. The staff will find any excuse they can to stop by sometime during the workday just to say hello to him. Why would they want to miss their fix? They still want a chance to bask in the glow of his warm smile and his caring nature.
Plus, they're still learning. He's the kind of influence that's good for you and it sure is good to see him going strong.
He still loves to turn those wrenches, fire up the torches and get down in the trenches with the rest of the men, and my brothers really don't know what they'd do without him.
My brothers wanted to show their appreciation, so they just gave him a gold watch - the same gold watch that all our 25-year employees get. It's just that Lou has seen more time go by than most. But don't be mistaken, Lou's not retiring. He's going to keep coming in.
The world could use a few more young men with Lou Dinella's brand of passion, don't you think?
Thanks Lou. You're simply the best.
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