Steve Penrod’s entry-level job as a general laborer marked the start of a career that would span over 40 years.

Steve Penrod vividly remembers his first day of work at the Amalgamated Sugar Company’s Nampa, Idaho, sugar beet factory. It was August 18, 1980, and he had just moved back to Nampa after spending two years in Alaska following his high school graduation.

“I was looking for work and needed a good stable job. I had a friend who worked at Amalgamated and he got me an application,” Penrod said. “The first thing I saw was the central area of the mill with all the mechanical stuff. I’ve always liked mechanical items and I was like a kid in a candy shop. I realized I loved it and I’ve stayed ever since. It’s become my backyard.”

Moving On Up

Penrod’s entry-level job as a general laborer marked the start of a career that would span over 40 years and lead to his current position as Mechanical Supervisor at the Nampa factory.

“I moved up through the ranks and worked as a knife station filer, mill oiler, pump crew member during M&R, truck shop mechanic, and assistant master mechanic,” Penrod said. “That led to being a shift mechanical supervisor, pumps and sugar end maintenance, and now mechanical supervisor in the sugar warehouse. About ten years into working here was when I knew I wanted to retire here.”

Mechanics have been a lifelong passion for Penrod, who was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. “I’ve always worked around farm machinery and vehicles,” he said. “When I was 14, I installed an air conditioner in my parents’ car.”

Penrod has used that love of mechanics and attention to detail throughout his career at the Nampa factory.

Navigating the Unpredictable

“Every day is different here and that’s why I like it,” he said. “I can be 80 percent sure of how the day is going to go but that 20 percent can change all your plans in a second.”

Safety Firstfactory worker, steven Pendrod, stands in the middle of a Amalgamated Sugar Company factory where sugar is being packaged

No matter what his day brings, safety is always Penrod’s number one priority.

“The first thing every morning is making sure the crew is safe,” he said. “From there, it’s keeping the factory running, spending money where needed, making high quality repairs and making our time count.”

A lifetime of experience and knowing the factory inside and out has made Penrod ready for any situation that may arise.

“One of the scariest situations while working at the factory was when my crew and I were walking out to clock out and realized there was an open water line that was cut off. The water was pouring out over the generator room, causing a foot and a half of water to accumulate on top of the roof,” he said. “The water was trying to drip down a switchgear. We got the water shut off and held our breath while waiting for the roof to drain the water away. It was the scariest thing because it could have been an explosion.”

The Heart of the Operation

Regardless of what challenges may arise, the collaboration and sense of family among Amalgamated Sugar Company employees are the most rewarding parts of Penrod’s job.

“The best part of working here is definitely the people and seeing their happiness in making successful repairs,” he said. “When I can be in the background watching them do their thing to keep things running smoothly—that’s when I’m happy.”

Improvements in safety and efficiency are some of the biggest advancements Penrod has seen throughout his career at the Nampa factory.

“Without question, the safety culture is what has changed the most over the years. We have always made high-quality sugar, but now it’s exceptional, and that is incredibly rewarding,” he said. “I’ve been around a lot of food processing plants, and the sugar factories are number one for me.”

The Future of American Sugar is Bright

Penrod feels the future is bright for the American sugar industry and the best is yet to come.

“We will continue to become more cost-efficient. I predict there will be an increase in automation and production—all the things that come with a growing company,” he said. “The sugar beet industry is a highly complex and unique part of American agriculture. Putting sugar on the table is a very complex process from beginning to end. From planting the seed to harvesting the crop, every aspect has decades of development to it. It takes so many people on the farms and in the factories to make it all work and provide sugar to happy customers.”

Inspiring the Next Generation

More young people should consider rewarding careers in the American sugar industry, according to Penrod.

“There are many different jobs required in getting sugar from farms to tables. When kids hit the age where they are starting to grow out of toys and want to tinker with parts and mechanics, we need to get them in here to see the factories and what we have to offer,” he said. “We want the kids to see they can both take apart something big and be a part of something big.”

For young people just starting out in their careers, Penrod’s best advice is to stay focused and work hard.

“Do what needs to be done without being asked,” he said. “Make good quality repairs and do work you can sign your name to.”

Life Beyond the Factory

When Penrod is not in the factory, he can be found fishing with his wife Jeanie, a retired registered nurse. The couple also enjoys traveling in their 40-foot motorhome to the Oregon coast or to visit their four adult children and three grandchildren. Penrod also loves working on old cars and doing free repairs for friends and neighbors in his backyard.

“I never buy anything I can’t fix,” he said.

Laura Rutherford

About the Author

Laura Rutherford graduated from the University of North Dakota in 2004 with a degree in Political Science. She is a shareholder in American Crystal Sugar Company and a member of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association (RRVSGA), the World Association of Beet and Cane Growers (WABCG), and the American Society of Sugarbeet Technologists. She is on the Board of Directors of the Sugar Industry Biotechnology Council and has published articles for the WABCG, the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association newsletter, and the British Sugarbeet Review magazine in Cambs, United Kingdom.

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