Meuret: New generations build on old values
Joseph Edward Meuret purchased a grain elevator in Brunswick in 1923 and ran it until his death 24 years later – leaving his wife, Katie, with four boys and two girls and many challenges and questions.
But there was no question about the business. The oldest boys – sophomores in high school, 16-year-old Lee and 15-year-old John – stepped up to keep the business in the family, sharing and helping each other at work and in the classroom.
"Things were simpler then. We grew up with a good work ethic, and we did it," said John, now 84, retired but still listed as president of Brunswick-based J.E. Meuret Grain Co., and a lifelong member of St. Ignatius Parish in Brunswick.
Now, John is a passer-of-the-torch for the family business to two of his sons, owner-managers Pat, vice president, and Jim, secretary-treasurer, as well as four grandsons – Pat’s sons John, James and Justin, and Jim’s son, Matt, who work for the company.
"It’s an ideal situation," said co-manager Jim. "It’s kind of what you hope for, when you get to maintain the business, make it better than it was, and then pass it on."
John’s five daughters – Pam, Michelle, Jacque, Julie and Kathy – who did not work directly in the business, have married and moved away from Brunswick. But three more of his sons worked for the company during high school and college before pursuing careers of their own: Michael in Norfolk, Kevin in St. Louis and Jeffrey in Omaha.
And the operation in Brunswick and other Meuret endeavors are based on faith, hard work, honesty and integrity, family members said.
"Faith plays a part in your life always, in all parts of your life," John said. "You don’t think about it … you just know what’s right."
John’s grandson James Meuret, an attorney for the multi-generation business operation, agreed, saying faith ties it all together.
WORD IS BOND
And that faith guides a business founded on and operated by following up words with deeds, family members said.
"The grain trade is a hand-shake business," said James. "I believe we are perceived as people who are good for their word."
Pat recalled one story about his father and his uncle Lee as they took over the business. An employee said the company bid too much for wheat from a relatively wealthy family, and the employee wanted to know how to handle the situation.
The reply: Pay as promised.
"Your word is your bond," Pat said. "Once you tell people you are going to do something, you do it, no matter the cost. And people will do business with you."
And it started early, when even through his own struggles, his grandfather thought about the needs of others, Pat said. During the Depression, as his grandfather traded coal, castor oil, whatever he could to "keep the wolf from the door," he remained generous, Pat said.
Talking about those Depression-era days, people would tell Pat there were times they couldn’t pay for the coal. "But my grandfather said, ‘Pay me when you can,’" Pat said.
John and Lee took over the business with trust and understanding as a base, and passed it on to their children and grandchildren, Pat said.
Lee Meuret left management of the business in 1955 to pursue a career in hospital management in North Dakota. But about that same time, another brother – Dick – stepped in with a degree in accounting and became an integral part of the operations until his retirement about 16 years ago. Still another brother, Joe, worked at the business from about 1955 to 1960.
LEARNING AND DOING
"Growing up, I had the opportunity to see my father and grandfather, uncle Jim and great-uncle Dick, work and be with each other every day," James said.
"It’s easy to take a look at working with family and say, ‘I’d never want to do that,’" he said. "But if you take care in making sure you go above and beyond in the business and in the relationships, you can make it work."
"We have always gone to church every Sunday," James said. "And these are the people you work with. That’s how we set the table" for the rest of the week, among family and in the community, he said.
The Meurets also volunteer at the parish, including John’s wife, Rosella, who helped raise their 10 children while still managing to teach kindergarten through eighth-graders in parish religious education; serve for years on the Altar Society, including as president; serve on the pastoral council, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (elected deanery president, province director for Nebraska and to the national board) and the archdiocesan Review Board for the protection of young people.
Even as he ran the family business, John showed up to switch on and turn off the church furnace each week for the parish’s one weekend Mass, as well as lector and usher at Mass and serve on the pastoral council. He also served on the Archbishop’s Committee for Development.
Growing up, two of the Meurets’ daughters – Pam and Jacque – played guitar and organ at Masses.
Pat and Jim, their wives, their children and their families, also volunteer at St. Ignatius as lectors and servers, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, religious education teachers and music ministers.
Faith runs through their lives, John said.
"I don’t know that you separate your faith and your family life or anything else," he said. "It’s all down the one road."
Four generations of Meurets have built a company in Brunswick that has grown from a grain elevator to include three feed mills, located in Brunswick, Creighton and Ainsworth, and about a dozen grain elevators across north central and northeast Nebraska, holding and selling corn, soybeans and other crops. J.E. Meuret Grain Co. employs about 50 people.
In the 1980s, the company convinced Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, now BNSF Railway Co., to keep a branch line open from O’Neill to Sioux City, Iowa, assuring railroad officials that J.E. Meuret would bring enough business to merit the effort.
That rail line remains open today.