Mary Gums Shares Memories From Her More Than 30 Years at Daktronics

From manufacturing to customer service and sales, Mary Gums grew right alongside Daktronics.

(As told and written by Mary Gums. Daktronics thanks all the people who have shared their stories this year, whether on video, in interviews, or written articles. If you have a story you want to share for our 50th anniversary, please contact Employee Communications.)

I was trained as a dental assistant and worked for a dentist in Minnesota before I married in 1973. When my husband was stationed at a Michigan Air Force base, I worked as a waitress because jobs were scarce. When we returned to Brookings in 1975, the job market was still tight.

Al Kurtenbach offered me work in September 1975. He contacted the dentist I had worked for, who commented that I had “good hands.” Because of this comment, Al thought I could help in Electronic Assembly.

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From left to right – Tom Weber, Mary Gums, and Al Kurtenbach in 1985.

I was also the first full-time Customer Service employee. Al believed I’d do well there, too, because I had experience dealing with people in pain. As it turned out, I did have the opportunity to load and solder circuit boards and pull parts in inventory, as well as working in Customer Service.

At the time, we were a small company of around 35 employees. All the customer files fit into two drawers of a four-drawer file cabinet. Many times, we didn’t have enough people in certain areas to complete the order. We pitched in and did what we needed to do to get the order out the door. Al was our example –he kept on going and made it work.

I recall one fall when we had so many football orders, the people in the manufacturing area needed help. We created extra shifts for the office staff to work evening and weekends to help. For around four to six weeks, we took on some of the simpler assembly tasks, such as wiring digits and screwing in light bulbs, to free up the skilled people. We pitched in where needed, while performing our usual job responsibilities.

In 1989, I changed roles from Customer Service to a Commercial market sales coordinator. This was a new role for Daktronics. Faye Dahl was the first person hired for the position, and I followed her. I remained in the sales coordinator position for almost 28 years. I enjoyed the position because it provided flexibility and growth opportunities.

What I’ve enjoyed most about working at Daktronics is the team environment and bringing people into the team to help them develop their careers. As the employee grows, they help Daktronics grow. When I moved from working in the regions to supervision and process improvement, I saw many people in the sales coordinator position accept other opportunities within the company.

Being part of the projects that Daktronics sold to Times Square in the 1990s are some of my most memorable experiences as a sales coordinator.  It was particularly exciting to be a part of the Morgan Stanley project. It wasn’t just that our Midwest company was selling equipment to be installed in a high-profile location, it was being part of the amazing teamwork it took to make the projects a success.

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I’ve been fortunate during my career to work with many wonderful people. Aside from the memorable work experiences, my teammates were part of an important personal experience for me in May 2010. I had attended South Dakota State University for 16 years on a part-time basis and was finally graduating in May.

I was really looking forward to the graduation ceremony. It was hard to miss it when I found out my son and his wife were graduating from the University of Nebraska Medical Center the same day.

The people I worked with stepped in to give me a wonderful surprise ceremony. Everyone was there–my family, the sales coordinators, my supervisor Connie Schelske, Sue Almhjeld, and Jim Morgan. Dean Krogman, from the SDSU Board of Regents, was there to present me my diploma.

They also planned a reception with flowers, cake, and sandwiches. I really appreciated the teamwork and commitment it took to pull this together. It was one of the nicest things anyone has done for me. It is also why my career at Daktronics has been so enjoyable—the people who work here.

We’re sharing the stories of our people during our 50th anniversary celebration with our #Dak50 storytelling series. Watch other stories, from current and retired employees, on our YouTube channel.

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