11/6/2013 9:07:00 AM Gemini Inc. founders Weinels' story is the American dream
The company name for Gemini Incorporated is entirely fitting. Its origins go back to the Gemini space program of the early 1960s when the company was founded.
Gemini is Latin for "twins" or two people. Each Gemini capsule held two people. And when it comes to Gemini, the modern company, there are also two people - founders Jim and Sharon Weinel.
Jim and Sharon Weinel are the embodiment of the American dream. They are two people from the heartland (Jim was born in Cannon Falls and grew up in Randolph -Randolph High class of 1951 - where his dad was a railroader, and Sharon from a farm in Howard, South Dakota) who took a chance on themselves, and, with hard work and determination, they built Gemini Incorporated. It was hard work that got them started and it's hard work that keeps them - and Gemini- going.
Now in their seventies, Jim and Sharon are still involved in the day-to-day operations of the business. They attend every major industry function, they travel together by car to all of Gemini's North American manufacturing plants, and, though semi-retired, they still pop in at the office in Cannon Falls every now and again.
Jim and Sharon met in Minneapolis, where he graduated from the University of Minnesota with an engineering degree. Sharon attended South Dakota State and later got a degree from Metropolitan State. They were married in 1956. In 1964, after working for five years at a steady paying job in aerospace engineering at Sheldahl in Northfield, Jim had the opportunity to purchase a small company in Minneapolis, along with the assumption of the bankrupt company's $30,000 in corporate debt. With $150 in start-up cash, Jim and Sharon rented 400 square feet of space in a garage and began building Gemini, while raising three small children.
At the time, the company manufactured various small plastic products, including cereal bowls for General Mills.
Gemini's entry into the sign letter business began after striking a deal to make letters for Displaymasters, a company that put up displays for Red Owl grocery stores.
Jim and Sharon traveled everywhere together. Jim made door-to-door sales calls to businesses and prospects in each city they visited. Sharon made a beeline to the local library to look up mailing lists and potential customers.
Life was difficult as they grew the company. Day old bread and discounted, unlabeled canned goods were very common on the dinner table, as were hand-me down clothing and bald tires on their car. Jim and Sharon will tell you they are grateful for the many people who helped them out in many ways along this journey.
The company did grow, and even a bad fire in 1968 which set them back to scratch and more debt, didn't stop the growth. Gemini outgrew its first plant in St. Louis Park and moved to what was then a bean field in Cannon Falls in 1972.
The growth is now at 50 years and counting and the multi-faceted company with numerous locations across North America is a leader in the sign industry (see the accompanying story).
A major new manufacturing and warehouse building was built in Cannon Falls this past year and another (number six in Cannon Falls) is currently under construction. For permitting purposes, the new building is valued at $1.5 million by the County. Local hiring is expected to pick up in the near future. There are more than 200 people employed in Cannon Falls currently.
The Ross Wagner Scholarship was established by Gemini in honor of Ross Wagner, Chairman of the company's Board of Directors from 1988-1992. The scholarships provide full-rides to one of the top 30 engineering schools in the United States and Canada for students majoring in engineering and are open to students in communities where Gemini has plants or in the hometowns of Gemini's founders; Howard, SD and Randolph, MN.
Recent local winners include Courtney Podritz of Randolph, Matthew Duff of Hampton (Randolph High School) Evan Owens, Laura Ramstad, Nikita Novik, Colin Fennern, Michael Growette, and Matthew Hernke of Cannon Falls.
Gemini continues to be a strong supporter of local charities and community organizations by donating a portion of profits to deserving organizations. Those groups include local churches, fire departments, community education programs, The Salvation Army, Boy and Girl Scouts, The Red Cross, senior centers, Big Brothers & Sisters, women's centers, food shelves, 4-H, VFW, American Legion, United Way, clinics, and the YMCA just to name a few.
Each employee at Gemini may designate a $250 donation to the non-profit agency of his or her choice. In addition, they have a volunteer group of employees who make up the Contributions Committee to decide where additional funds are allocated.
In Cannon Falls, the Weinels donated a 70 acre property (and a 25 acre island) they owned along the Cannon River west of Hannah's Bend Park to the DNR. It is now called the Gemini Aquatic Management Area.