Block retires after 42 years with yellow and green
After 42 years working with John Deere, Dan Block recently announced he’ll retire this spring.
The past 26 years of his career have been at the Luverne dealership where he grew the business and spearheaded a massive building project in 2018.
Despite his role at the helm of a multi-million-dollar company, Block talks about his humble roots in the company that started in the Adrian store.
“I graduated from Ellsworth High School in 1976 and went to work for Denny Hohn in 1978,” Block said. “He put me in the back shop setting up machinery.”
Two weeks later, Hohn moved Block to the parts department.
“I told him, ‘I know nothing about parts,’ and he said, ‘That’s OK. I’ll train you.’ But he didn’t really tell me much,” Block laughed. “I learned through hard knocks.”
Hohn tells a different story.
“You know during the first week you hire someone if they’re going to be a winner or a loser. I could tell right away Dan was going to make it,” Hohn told the Star Herald last week on a phone call from Arizona.
“I liked hiring farm kids because most of them had a strong work ethic and they knew what farm equipment was. This kid knew where he was going; he just needed an opportunity — and he didn’t waste it.”
From recipe cards to computers
Block remembers finding parts in a book and consulting a card file system that kept records organized.
“Every part had a card — like a recipe card — and it contained a record of every piece of inventory on hand. When you sold one, you took it off the card. There was no computer.”
He said the work generated a great deal of paperwork.
“We had two post office boxes and I needed a big box to bring the paperwork back,” he said. “Now it’s entirely paperless. You don’t get paperwork. It’s all email. It’s totally changed.
Block said machinery technology also revolutionized the business.
“Precision technology is fascinating. Auto steer is amazing,” he said. “Sometimes people say they’d like to go back. No. I wouldn’t go back. We’re at the top of the game now.”
Good people make good businesses
In 1994 Hohn bought the Ohlhausen John Deere in Luverne and put Block in charge of what became Hohn Implement.
“I figured he was going to put me in the parts department, but he told me, ‘I want you to manage the store,” Block recalled, shaking his head.
“So I came over here to be the manager, knowing nothing. … I have to thank Denny Hohn for the opportunity. … His thought was, if you work hard, and you’re honest, you’ll be fine. But it was scary. Just a high school diploma was all I had.”
Hohn said Block was ready for the job.
“I had no reservations putting him in that position, because I knew he could handle it,” Hohn said. “He’s got common sense, he’s got business sense, he knows how to talk to people and he knows how to make customers happy. … He’s the whole package.”
Hohn retired in 2008 after C&B Operations bought the Luverne store, but he and Block stayed in touch while the store continued to grow.
“He was a farm boy and he wanted a job,” Hohn said, reflecting on Block’s retirement announcement.
“And from that point on he proved himself. He brought that store up from almost nothing, and it was his baby. … I would say he’s the best store manager CB has. Out of 38 stores, I would say he’s right at the top.”
Block reflected on his early years in Luverne.
“Managing people and hiring good people was the big part,” he said. “To be successful you need to surround yourself with good people.”
The Kopplow brothers, Jared and Jeff, were the first ones he hired, and both stayed until Jared left just last year.
Jeff Kopplow remains at the Luverne store and said he’ll miss Block after he retires.
“He and my brother and I had a good thing going. We could communicate without talking. … Kinda like a quarterback-receiver relationship,” he said.
“He’s been good to work for. … He’s just a good guy. He makes time for people. And he knows everybody and always says ‘hi’ to people that come through the door. A lot of people looked up to him.”
Kopplow said Block’s approach to customer relations was a big reason the store did well.
“He has concern for his customers and his employees,” he said. “If you know how to do that and you know how to treat your help, at the end of the day you’re going to do well.”
Block said he’ll miss his employees and customers — many of whom have done business with him for generations,
“I’ve seen fathers and sons – three or four generations of families,” he said.
“It’s very hard to leave, especially after being so involved. But they say 60 to 70 is when you should enjoy yourself, and I’ll be 62 this year.”
One thing he’ll enjoy in retirement is spending more time farming near Ellsworth where he lives with his wife, Jo, a nurse at Sanford Luverne.
His last day at C&B will be April 1. A retirement party originally set for March 20 has been postponed due to coronavirus precautions.