Since he knew nothing about the granite business, Rick Dilts found himself in training at the bottom of Dakota Granite’s quarry two days after graduating college. His co-workers decided what better way to initiate this “green horn” than to let him run a 1500 degree burner on those hot South Dakota summer days. He’s not operating the burner anymore, but what he learned from working in the quarry and plant that summer helped him appreciate the hard work and dedication associated with getting stone out of the ground and building a one of a kind monument. Dakota Granite’s skilled craftsmen treat each stone like it’s their own family memorial and in turn, Dakota Granite treats each employee like they are family. This has been their philosophy since the company’s inception in 1925. This belief was never lost on Dilts. “I’m very fortunate to have worked with the previous three leaders of this company to see firsthand their commitment to not only their customers but their employees as well. Dakota Granite’s Mission Statement is a testament to that commitment. One in which they’ve never wavered.” Neither Dilts nor the burner are in the quarry anymore, but the same commitment to quality can still be found there.
QUOTE: “Many generations of people have worked at Dakota Granite. You really get the feeling you’re working in the footsteps of relatives. And I owe it to them to carry on the tradition…to help preserve the integrity of the Dakota Granite tradition.” Chuck Monson.
On Chuck Monson’s first day at Dakota Granite back in 1979 he hardly expected to meet one of the company’s founders from 1925. But as he sat down at his desk and unsuspectingly began to leaf through an employee handbook, the words of Ezra Stengel still echoed through its pages nearly 70 years later. The message was so simple, yet unforgettable. Before Ezra passed away he wrote down and distributed the guidelines for company ethics, “We will conduct our business based on Christian principles….” Being the new office manager, Chuck took these words to heart, even though he didn’t know a great deal about the stone business back then. But as he learned about Dakota Mahogany granite, he also learned something important about turning simple quarry stone into timeless tributes. “Whenever we make a monument, we remind ourselves to make it as if we have an appreciation for that person. Because it’s not just a monument for someone, but a monument to someone.” Today, Chuck pens a few lines for the handbook himself. And the Dakota Granite family couldn’t be more proud.
QUOTE: “To me, you can’t compromise on quality and just sell price. That’s very short sighted, and it’s contrary to the whole philosophy of memorialization.” Jack Stengel.
If things had gone according to Ezra Stengel’s plan, his son would have been the Rev. Jack Stengel – saver of souls not seller of granite. Yet, Jack has done his part to keep the faith at Dakota Granite by preaching the basic principles his father taught him about doing business with people. “My father always said that when everything’s said and done, friends and loved ones count the most. He believed that people were basically good, and that relationships are more important than business.” In a time when economics tend to fly in the face of ethics, Ezra’s words have continued to guide decisions on company policy. For example, Dakota Granite has always had an unconditional guarantee to help preserve the long term relationships so vital to a solid business. And even Dakota Granite’s craftsmanship has an integrity and honesty of its own, since you can’t build a quality business relationship on less than quality products. So, while Jack may have missed the call to the ministry, his father couldn’t be more proud of his commitment to the eternal and everlasting.
QUOTE: “The most important thing in running a company is hiring the right people and treating them right. Hire people who will dedicate themselves to the company. It’s not the machinery you have, because other people have machinery too. It’s the people running the machines that make the difference.” Jim Stengel.
When curious tourists began pulling off the highway near Milbank, South Dakota, lured by the sight of huge derricks in the sky, they hardly suspected a tour from a 12-year-old boy. But Jim Stengel, riding out there on his bicycle, knew the Dakota Granite quarry and plant like the back of his hand. So the tourist dropped change in his palm out of gratitude, while Jim watched changes in technology at the plant and learned the stone business first-hand. Coming back to work for Dakota Granite after college, Jim eventually took over the company for his ailing father, Ezra. “It was a time of transition in more ways than one. After World War II there was a good market for polished slabs, but by 1950 there was an increased demand for monuments. Being prepared for the transition saved us when others were failing.” And Dakota Granite survived indeed. Under Jim’s leadership the company was the first to computerize its entire production line. And the tourists still come – from Europe, the Orient and India – to see the most advanced diamond saw technology in the world. The tour guide is a little older, but he probably still takes tips.
Ezra G Stengel
QUOTE: “We had an old, wooden, 100% hand operated crane in the east yard. A fellow had to be ‘husky’ to handle that job, but apparently he wasn’t appreciated as he did it for 40 cents an hour…in April of 1929 we shipped out, with that old wooden crane, approximately fourteen railroad cars of granite – that’s a car every other day…” Ezra Stengel, 1945
It’s amazing how Dakota Granite Works survived those first years of operation after it was purchased in 1925 at a bankruptcy auction. Though friends and family of the early founders dug deep in their pockets to help keep things running, the original capital was gone before the company shipped a single piece of granite. Enter Ezra G. Stengel, yet another young man from the local failed bank – only this time, a man with unwavering determination and a few mouths to feed. “During the year of 1927… I was give the chance to do the office work. It wasn’t that I wanted to get into the granite business… it was a meal ticket for myself and my family, so I decided to try it out. The office equipment was a $12.00 typewriter, a table with a crooked top and a couple of old chairs…covered with stone dust. Not so coincidentally, Dakota Granite did more than survive. Under Ezra’s frugal leadership the company withstood slow accounts during the Depression and a fire that burned the original plant to the ground. His notes from 1945 conclude,”…you can gather from the above that we have faith in the future of our company and that it is our intention to ‘stick and stay’ in this business." Ezra, we could not have said it any better.
QUOTE: “I remember my father saying that he was happy to be solvent in the twenties. He didn’t like being in debt, especially during tough times. He had a very strong work ethic and always believed in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” Harriet Liebenstein Jones.
In telling the true story of our beginnings, one might wonder why Dakota Granite didn’t wind up selling 2x4’s instead of monuments. After all, our founder knew more about running a lumberyard than a quarry. Fortunately, he let someone who knew about stone mind the shop, while he minded his own business (we mean that literally, of course) back in town. This brave founder of ours, George Liebenstein, entered Dakota Granite history at a time when the original operating quarry had failed…more than once. And if it hadn’t been for a convincing conversation with a couple of fast-talking men (one, the previous owner of the quarry and the other, left jobless after a local bank failed) our history might have ended in 1925. But it didn’t. In fact, Dakota Granite grew from a shaky start at a summer bankruptcy auction to a strong survivor of both the Depression and World War II. A lot of good people and good planning have contributed to our success over these past seventy years. But it all began with a man who believed that excellence, both in the present and future, came with a price: Good, hard work.