Most managers will never know the challenge of overseeing a plant with more than 3,000 employees.
Effectively handling such responsibility — while still going to great lengths to contribute to the community — is nothing short of impressive.
So it was for Paul Karkiainen, who for the past 13 years not only ran the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb, but also built a reputation as a respected community leader.
Doing both couldn't have been easy. Managing the Tyson plant has meant facing a number of lofty challenges at a time such operations have been forced to reach outside their communities for workers.
Ongoing debate over immigration also has cast a shadow over meatpacking plants, as some have attracted illegal immigrants to their ranks. (It is worth noting that Tyson plants voluntarily use more stringent measures than many to ensure they are employing people legally authorized to work in the United States, and recently became the first major food company to sign a new deal with the federal government to enhance those efforts.)
As for the local plant's difficulties in finding enough workers for its demanding jobs, Karkiainen would be the first to acknowledge that not every hiring strategy worked. Bringing in help from other communities created problems at times, with some newcomers even turning to crime.
While the unwelcome fallout demanded a review of such hiring practices, those quick to criticize also should consider the tremendous upside of a company that's a driving force in the Finney County economy. The payroll of the sizable operation and its boost to the local tax base cannot be ignored.
For many people, the demands of running a meatpacking plant in today's world would be more than enough.
Still, there is an expectation for the county's largest employer to give back to the community.
Karkiainen took that to heart, and then some.
He was a faithful, enthusiastic contributor to many endeavors — most notably the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce (which gave him its highest honor, the Award of Merit), and the Finney County United Way.
He encouraged more United Way presentations at the Tyson plant, which helped those fundraising drives reach new heights — including the year Karkiainen served as drive chairman. Working so closely with the United Way was a savvy move, considering United Way-funded agencies assist many Tyson workers and their families.
Those who have worked alongside Karkiainen are well aware of his thoughtful and reasonable approach to professional and volunteer assignments. His unique sense of humor no doubt helped put many difficult situations into perspective.
He also had the guts to speak out on community issues.
From voicing protest over a move by the Garden City Commission to change quorum to allow commissioners to privately discuss city business, to a willingness to weigh in on the new animal shelter — among other local issues — Karkiainen wasn't afraid to make his opinions known over the years.
In doing so, he set an example for others. Unfortunately, too many people in leadership positions today won't openly defend what is right for fear of offending a select few.
So, it was encouraging to see local citizens get behind a move to publicly honor Karkiainen as he headed into retirement. This past week, the city commission declared Jan. 18 "Paul Karkiainen Day" in the city.
While proclamations help communities recognize exceptional achievements of local residents and groups, such honors don't often come to plant managers.
Because Karkiainen did much more than what was expected — and with a sincere desire to see the community prosper — he deserved to be singled out in such a way.
E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at firstname.lastname@example.org.