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Zweifel works to help others work
Jean Zweifel hands out ice cream sandwiches at a holiday party at Greenco in Monroe Dec. 21. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Since 1986, Jean Zweifel has been employed at Greenco Industries in a slew of positions, most recently in administration, where she impacts the lives of the people with disabilities who find work through Greenco.

"I had been a school teacher, and then I stayed home and raised kids," Zweifel said, adding that a friend got her an interview at Greenco. "(The hiring manager) said, 'You're not what I'm looking for.' My education was regular ed, and I think he was looking for special ed. Anyhow, he called me that afternoon and said I could start part-time."

For what started out as a job to take up roughly half the week, Zweifel found herself immersed in the thick of the operation before long - but after 31 years, she has decided to retire.

Greenco is a production facility that employs an array of people, including those with mental and physical disabilities, and performs services for several businesses, such as New Glarus Brewing and Colony Brands. According to the company website, the nonprofit provides work opportunities like packaging and janitorial work for 110 adults and teenagers with disabilities.

"I enjoy trying to improve the lives of disabled people - both through living situations, work, entertainment, activities, whatever," Zweifel said. "That's rewarding to me."

A few weeks after she started at the company, Zweifel moved to full-time work as a case manager. Within a year, she was asked to be the production manager.

"I really loved the case manager role, it really fit for me," Zweifel said. "I came back on Monday and said that I would do it if he would promise me I could go back if I didn't like it. He said yes, but then didn't hire anybody, so I did both jobs."

That wasn't the last time Zweifel was asked to handle multiple duties. Two years later, she was asked to join the administrative staff.

"He didn't hire anybody, so I did everything all at once, including setting up accounting in the old DOS system," Zweifel said. "I never had a computer class in my life. But it worked."

Zweifel's family, like daughter Wendy Zweifel, understood Greenco wasn't just a 9-5 job. If called in the middle of the night to check on a client in a housing project, Jean wouldn't hesitate.

"She had two marriages: Married to Greenco and married to her husband," her daughter joked. "She's really dedicated, big work ethic, big heart. I don't ever remember her taking vacation. She's headstrong."

Teri LaBorde has been on the board at Greenco for 12 years and said she has been a fan of Zweifel from the beginning.

"I first knew Jean because I was teaching in Brodhead and I met her at one of my special ed meetings," LaBorde said. "I wanted to place one of my students here. And I wanted them to continue to grow and prosper like they did in school. She told me to trust her that they would. I thought 'OK, I'll trust you.' And they have, they're here. I had to come and see it for myself. And they love being here."

After joining the board, LaBorde saw what Zweifel meant to the company and all of the workers - or clients, as they're known.

"I was just amazed at what goes into running this facility and what Jean knows," LaBorde said. "The hours and the dedication that she has, she just loves what she does."

Zweifel said Greenco started in a church basement as a day care center by "some of those ladies that are out there that decided their kids shouldn't have to sit at home all day long." A plot of land was donated near what is now Precision Drive Control on 11th Street, and a 9,000-square-foot building was erected.

That was when programming shifted in 1979 from arts and crafts to vocational training, according to the Greenco Industries website. Zweifel began her time there before the nonprofit moved to a 27,000-square-foot plant on 4th Avenue West in 1992, which serves as the current site. In 2000, a north building was added to that location.

"(In) '97 we started the housing project, and we now have five locations, we have five licensed four-bed adult family homes with 24-hour care staff, and we have two two-bed certified homes," she said.

Greenco also places workers throughout the community.

"We have 20 people that work at the Monroe Clinic every night cleaning," Zweifel said. "They are integrated with our people and their people."

She didn't take the decision to retire lightly but knew it was time to be at home.

"I had planned to retire last year after the audit. But through circumstances and things that happened here, it just wasn't feasible. But this time, this is it," she said.

Zweifel said she is ready to step away - though not entirely. She will stay on as a consultant for an undetermined amount of time. Randy Klein of Brodhead will take over Zweifel's duties.

Even still, her heart might always be with those at Greenco, happy to see workers earn a living - one of whom still displays his first paycheck on his bedroom wall, she noted.

"I truly believe that Greenco Industries is a good service for the people," she said. "People can complain about jobs, but it's a reason to get up ... And I think that's a good thing for our people. They're happier."