It is a story reminiscent of Horatio Alger, an up-from-the-bootstraps epic played out right here in Lodi.
Imagine a young high school graduate who takes a job for a local company. Through hard work and smarts, there is advancement and increasing responsibility.
Finally, the hard-working employee has a chance to purchase the company, turn it around, and make it flourish.
|Vickie Van Steenberge
Now, imagine that the business is a foundry, one of those rough-edged factories with plenty of hot metal and sweat, and that the young high school graduate who winds up owning it is a woman.
It is the true story of the late Vickie Van Steenberge, who used her intelligence and remarkable work ethic to rise from clerk to owner of Lodi Ironworks, Inc., a foundry now operated by her sons Kevin and Michael. (She is also survived by her husband, Paul.)
Van Steenberge was a caring mother and wife who had a varied life outside of her business pursuits. She loved to cook up Italian feasts, rooted passionately for the Raiders and would often enlist friends and family to play a rousing game of cards.
She also contributed to an array of local nonprofit groups, from the Micke Grove Zoological Society to the Lodi Soroptimist Club.
For her accomplishments, she is being posthumously inducted into the Lodi Community Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Lodi Boys and Girls Club. A recognition banquet is Saturday evening at the club.
San Joaquin County Supervisor Jack Sieglock said Van Steenberge was like a second mother to him. Sieglock was boyhood friends with Kevin Van Steenberge. Along with another buddy, Jim Ehlers, Sieglock spent many hours in the Van Steenberge household. He grew up being at turns entertained, amazed and deeply impressed by Van Steenberge.
"I regard her not just as a wonderful friend, but a mentor," he said.
The boys were each struck by her work ethic.
"Her life is a testament to the fact that if you work hard and keep your nose to the grindstone, you can - and likely will - succeed," Sieglock said.
Van Steenberge served as campaign chairman for Sieglock and she was active in other political campaigns as well.
Sieglock was also impressed by her ability to be firm but fair in business dealings.
"There were times, in some labor talks, when I know she had to hold the line. She was very tough about that, knowing that she had to be tough or the business could be jeopardized," he said. "But she also handled people with a sense of fairness, and never lost her femininity."
Kevin Van Steenberge said his mother had a clear vision for the family business and never faltered.
"She was a very determined person," he said.
He recalled that his mother also had a sense of fun. In many male-owned foundries, for instance, there were posters or calendars featuring pretty young women. So Van Steenberge placed a poster of Burt Reynolds, wearing only his birthday suit, in her office - and kept it there for years.
Ehlers said Van Steenberge would typically work 12 or 15 hours a day, six days a week. She would often come home, make dinner for her family, then work until midnight in a home office.
"Her energy was unbelievable," Ehlers said.
Her business savvy earned her a place on the boards of Farmers and Merchants Bank, Tokay Savings and Loan and the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. She was honored as Woman-of-the-Year by Soroptimists International of Lodi; Outstanding Foundryman of the Year by the California Cast Metals Association; received the Italian American Business Award and was honored with the James A. Pinkerton Award from the Lodi Chamber of Commerce.
As the boys grew older, they would often go to the Van Steenberges after church and spend much of the day there, watching the Raiders game, eating Italian food prepared by Van Steenberge, then playing poker or blackjack with the seemingly indefatigable foundry owner.
His mother's love for Italian food, said Kevin Van Steenberge, came from her Italian heritage; her maiden name was Massoni.
Van Steenberge also found time to volunteer for an array of community efforts. She was one of the founders of the Zoological Society and served on the boards of the Lodi Public Library and Lodi Memorial Hospital.
Sieglock said Van Steenberge, who died in 1999 at age 71, cared deeply about Lodi and many times offered her time, expertise or resources to good causes, declining any recognition.
Kevin Van Steenberge summed up his mother's life this way:
"She was just an incredible person."
For information regarding the Hall of Fame dinner, contact the Boys and Girls Club at 334-2697.
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