During our 50th anniversary celebration, we want to take some time to acknowledge, thank and highlight a few of the many hardworking and loyal employees that embody WSI’s vision of absolute reliability to the customer, enthusiastic service to the community and dedication to the balance between work and life. In the WSI Vision  we state, “We will recognize the importance of each individual’s personal needs.” Discovering the personal balance between work and life helps our workforce better serve the company, their families and their communities.

While Joe Romenesko is technically no longer a WSI employee, his long service to the company, enduring spirit, and commitment to his community and family make him the ideal embodiment of the WSI vision. When we first called for nominations for employees to feature as part of the WSI 50th anniversary celebration communications, Joe’s name came up several times. We sat down with Joe earlier this summer to discuss his past roles at WSI, his life-changing stroke and subsequent recovery, and his current community involvement. His views on work, life and service were nothing short of inspiring:

“I really grew up in the warehouse,” Joe said, referencing that he is the son of one of the original WSI founders, Don Romenesko. “I started raking lawns at age 12 outside the warehouses at Brighton Beach in Menasha. Then, I started working legally at age 14 in the Media Center,” where he made copies, stapled manuals and provided general odd-job support.

When he graduated from high school and turned 18, Joe became a warehouse worker, performing maintenance duties and eventually operating lift trucks as a material handler. By 19, he was a warehouse lead.  As Joe took on more responsibility throughout his many years of service, he became an operations director, leading many of WSI’s biggest facility start-ups around the country: Portland, Jenks, Allentown, Sauk Village and more. Joe loved the pace, the day-to-day challenges and the excitement of starting new warehouse facilities to move the company forward.

Joe’s life changed dramatically one evening in 2010, after leaving the Sauk Village facility, he began feeling unwell; a gradual, creeping paralysis on his left side and dizziness rendered him unable to drive the rest of the way home. His co-pilot and start-up team member Dewey Bates ended up driving the rest of the way back to Appleton, but not before encouraging Joe to stop at a hospital on the way. However, Joe felt more comfortable getting home to his local Appleton provider, where he was familiar with the doctors and other caregivers. When Joe arrived at his hospital in Appleton, it was clear he had suffered a massive stroke.

The effects on his body and ability to maintain daily life activities were sudden and significant. He experienced extensive paralysis on his left side, lost the vision in his left eye and no longer has full use of his left arm.  But, as Joe had proved time and again in his start-up work, he was not willing to give up, even with the devastating effects of a stroke. He laser-focused his energy on slowly but steadily regaining his physical capabilities in the same way he used to concentrate all his energy on moving WSI facilities and projects forward.

The often slow physical progress forced Joe to cease working at WSI entirely and seek other activities in which to channel his intellectual energy and passion.

“Moving away from that was devastating for me,” Joe said. “I had to relearn how to spend time in my community and with my family, and find that balance between work and wellness and family and community.”

Now, Joe names the stroke as a defining moment for him, and says he ultimately is glad the subsequent restructuring of his life happened. He went from “go, go, go” to volunteering part-time, becoming a frequent volunteer at a local food pantry. He maintains his ties to WSI, as well; a few months ago, members of the WSI family helped his family move all their belongings into a house that can accommodate his physical needs.

While he still misses the fast-paced culture of working in warehouses and operations, he knows he is putting forth time and energy into issues that matter to his community.

“I miss it every day, but throughout the process of recovery, I realized there are also other things in life that are important,” Joe said, reflecting on his rich and varying friendships with WSI personnel, fellow volunteers and food pantry frequenters.

We miss Joe’s presence in the warehouses and offices at WSI, but value his continued role as an informal mentor to many WSI employees. Thank you for your past service, Joe.