By Laura Greensmith
When you get up and go to work each day, it is easy to wonder if you are actually making a difference. For “Uncle Paul” Steklenski of Duluth’s Positively 3rd Street Bakery, there should be no question. As he humbly slips into retirement this fall after 27 years of dedication, his mark on the cooperative bakery is undeniable.
In 1983, Paul secured a personal loan and used his own assets to found the bakery with two other bakers. As with many fledgling businesses, the early years meant long hours and little pay. Paul garnered no wages that first month of operation, and then as paid $1/hour with a limit of $40/week, even though he often logged over 60 hours/week. Although the bakery was incorporated as a cooperative in 1985, Paul has remained fiercely dedicated to its success, much like a parent watching his child grow. More than 80 people have worked at the bakery since it started, with 12 currently on board.
Over the years Paul has taken on many different roles within the cooperative. As a baker, Paul would arrive at 2 a.m. to begin working the dough, constantly striving to make improvements and create new recipes. He was also visible as a promoter of the bakery and what it stands for: healthy food, a cooperative business model, and a strong community.
Fellow bakery owner Dave Sorensen states, “Paul is amazingly plugged into the Duluth community. His circle of friends, acquaintances, and business contacts is huge, and he is continually expanding it with cookie-bribes and schmoozing.” Paul has also served for many years as president of the board, unofficial maintenance man, landlord of the rental above the bakery, and long-range visionary for the future of the bakery.
Perhaps his biggest contribution, however, is his leadership by example, an impressive work ethic that few can rival. “Until he was 61 years old he was riding his bike to work in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, and the first thing he would do is crawl inside the oven with an oil can,” said Sorensen.
Even though Paul will continue to be a presence at the bakery and keep an eye on things, we must acknowledge that this is the end of an era. In a time when people switch jobs as often as hairstyles, it is rare to find someone who has dedicated as much to a local business as Paul has to Positively 3rd Street Bakery.
This story was submitted on the behalf of the 12 bakery workers: Rick Moen, Teressa Whittet, Dan Proctor, Michael Latsch, Jay Newkirk, Jesse Harth, Dave Sorensen, Jeff Greensmith, Katie Christiansen, Sam Goodall, Dannie Tope, Kalyn Youngbloom and Laura Greensmith.You will be missed, Uncle Paul!