Dwight Weideman once flirted with retirement.
He didn't get very far.
The 85-year-old Kennewick man has spent a lifetime working, and that's how he likes it.
Weideman is the longest-tenured employee at Storageland on Columbia Drive in Kennewick, having logged more than 17 years with the company. He's the resident handyman who tackles odd jobs. He's been the electrician, the plumber, the painter. He sweeps and hammers.
He used to pull double-duty, riding his bike across the cable bridge to maintain Storageland's Pasco facility.
"You know what maintenance is?" Weideman asked, only half-smiling. "It's everything."
Weideman's duties rarely are interrupted. About five years ago, he was diagnosed with melanoma and at one point underwent 24 days of radiation to treat the cancer. He did not miss a day of work.
"Even if you've got the flu or whatever," Weideman said, "you're just as sick at home as you are at work."
Weideman speaks with the quiet confidence of a man who knows he's right -- his hair has retained its color because he's never worn a hat; World War II would have ended sooner if he'd been old enough to fight; he's maintained his health by avoiding medication. He walks with a steady, deliberate gait and wears his shirt sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. He smokes a pack a day and enjoys cold beer after work.
Weideman credits his rural upbringing with forging his work ethic. He was born March 1929 in Newton, Iowa, and had eight siblings -- seven brothers and a sister. He helped his father raise corn, wheat, oats and barley, as well as the family dairy cows. He attended school once a week.
Mechanics came naturally to the young Weideman, who remembers overhauling a combine tractor at the age of 12.
"My dad even asked me, 'How do you know how to fix that stuff?' " Weideman said.
"I've been here before," Weideman said, alluding to an earlier life. "This is the second trip around maybe."
Weideman moved to the Tri-Cities in 1968, following a brother who'd landed a job with crane company Lampson. He became a motorcycle mechanic at Tri-City Honda, a position he held for 21 years. In 1989, he and everyone else were let go when Tri-City Honda closed its doors on Christmas Eve.
Weideman was 60 and decided to retire, but he soon found himself too long on time and too short on money.
"That's why I went back to work," he said, noting that his retirement lasted two weeks.
Weideman then worked as a Harley-Davidson mechanic and performed odd jobs before joining Storageland in August 1997. He still keeps a faded, sepia photograph of his first manager, Larry Stokes, hanging above his desk in his Storageland work space. He recalled entering Stokes' office for the first time.
"I walked in and said, 'I heard you're looking for a man,' " Weideman said. Stokes fixed his eyes on the visitor, reached into his pockets and tossed Weideman a ring of keys.
"I've heard about you," Stokes said to Weideman.
A match was made.
Weideman arrives at work just after 7 a.m., riding a mountain bike the few blocks from his home. He's typically scheduled to work 20 hours each week, but said he's on call 24 hours a day and routinely puts in additional hours.
No task is too much, he said, and many don't need asking to be accomplished.
Storageland owner Drew Landram recalled a project Weideman tackled in late September -- a vehicle had struck a fence post and rendered a gate inoperable. Landram believed the repairs would be extensive and planned to call a professional. Weideman wasn't having it. He recruited a neighbor to help with repairs, pulled the post back into place and had the gate functioning good as new.
"Physically, he can't do everything he could at 60, but he still does more than most guys that are 60," Landram said.
Landram called Weideman "a key contributor to our organization."
"I do think he's unique," Landram said. "But I do think there are others out there. I do not hesitate to hire older people. There's a responsibility you have that you don't have with younger people."
Weideman has two children in Arizona and Hawaii. He has been married twice -- he's outlived both wives and a longtime girlfriend.
-- Drew Foster: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org