Allen Holtz: Founder of NWL

February 28, 2021 | 0 comments
Sherwood Park steel fabrication welding structural northern weldarc Edmonton

Allen Holtz was born in 1935, the 13th child to Henry and Pauline Holtz, on a small farm in the New Sarepta, Alberta area. Growing up the youngest of 13 with little food in the “dirty 30s” was a struggle similar to what many families bore at that time. The Holtz family was no exception.

Allen went to a one-room schoolhouse in a community called North Buzineus. The teacher taught grades one through eight, and if more education was permitted, the children would go to New Sarepta or Leduc to complete grade 12. 

When Allen was older and still going to school, he applied to and was given the job of school janitor. Each morning he was to be at the school early to light the wood stove before the teacher and other children got there. Most mornings in the winter, he was awake and walking to school when it was still dark on a lonely gravel road. The school was about three miles from the homestead and there was no one to drive him to school or pick him up.

After Allen finished grade eight, his older brother got him a job working as a swamper for an oilfield trucking firm. He enjoyed the job and remained with the company for approximately a year until he needed to return home to help out on the farm, as his father had a fatal heart attack. Allen was 16 years old. Eventually he returned to the oilfield industry to work hard as a swamper before driving his own semi to oil sites in Alberta and British Columbia.

In 1957, he married Shirley; seven years later they had a daughter named Gayle.

Growing up with little taught Allen to reuse and recycle what was available, including bent nails. On many an occasion, you could find Allen in his garage or workshop, straightening bent nails to be reused for another wood project or building he would construct. Pieces of wood from job sites were made into dressers, toys, and a cradle for Gayle. He built a garage and the basement rumpus room with scraps of wood. Nothing was wasted.

Allen was a hard worker, and he could fix anything and everything—or he’d at least try. He was very good with his hands and knowledgeable about repairing motors in small and large equipment and vehicles.

In the late 50s and early 60s he worked as a truck driver for Texaco, hauling fuel to gas stations in and around Alberta. Sometimes when he was working the midnight shift, he would go to the town of Hay Lakes, wake his oldest sister’s husband Norm up, and ask him to go with him to deliver his product to small towns throughout the area. Together Norm and Allen would travel and eat a lunch that sister Lydia would make for their travels. Norm was great company for Allen. He respected his brother-in-law (who was old enough to be his father). 

On three separate occasions, wives of his friends and co-workers whose husbands were working out of town called to ask Allen to take them to the hospital when they were going into labour. The grateful parents named their sons after Allen. Shirley’s Aunt and Uncle named their youngest son after him as well. On top of all of that, he had two other namesakes: his grandson and his best friend Marcel’s oldest son.

In time, Allen went to night school to complete his high school education in order to apprentice as a Welder. He knew the importance of a good education and did not take it for granted, knowing that not all people were able to get it.

Allen was kind and he cared about people. He had empathy for his fellow man and was always available to help someone out. Whether it was to talk or lend a hand, he was always there. He was personable, and everyone who knew him liked him. He was a great salesperson and worked quite a few years in sales for other companies before deciding to start off on his own.

 

Northern Weldarc Ltd. was formed in 1971. Allen worked nonstop to get his tiny one-bay shop running. He worked six days a week, sometimes all seven. Gayle would always go with him to work on Saturdays to answer the phone and work as the janitor. I know for a fact that she didn’t always do that great a job at eight years old, but she tried and her father was very proud of her. Shirley held down three jobs to help keep the family afloat until the business could turn a small profit. In time, she began working for the company in an administrative role. 

When Allen started up NWL, there were a few things he wanted to ensure would happen at his company that didn’t happen when he worked for others. For example, summer holidays: he wanted every person to have time off during the summer months. Seniority ruled at most companies, and with seniority came longer vacation days, which provided many employees with a two-week vacation in the fall months after their children were back in school. Another was to be closed during Christmas holidays, in order for staff to spend time with their families. We continue that tradition today. In all the years that NWL has been open, there have only been a few when we were open for part of the holidays. Most years the staff were able to bank days off so they could have a full pay cheque when they returned to work in January.

Allen liked to spend time working side by side with his staff in the shop. I think that they respected him more for that; he never gave a job to someone that he wouldn’t do. He may have chided the staff or given them a rough time, but they knew that it was all in fun.

He also would take the opinions and ideas of staff, and he appreciated their honesty and ideas. He always said he was only as good as the people that worked with him.

 

The NWL shop that Allen Holtz built.
Completion of the NWL Office and Shop facilities in 1975.


Eventually, Allen and Shirley bought some industrial land in Edmonton and built a shop and office there. Family and friends helped to build the shop on weekends and staff on weekdays. It was an early winter the year the shop was being completed, and Allen and the boys were welding steel together for a client with the snow falling beside them. The roof still wasn’t done. But in due course, the shop and office were completed. For the next 20+ years, NWL operated at that location. In 2001, we moved to our current location in Sherwood Park.

 

Allen loved being on the farm, and went back to his home town each fall to help a childhood friend with their harvesting. Shirley would also join Allen and help where she was needed, sometimes driving the grain truck. As Gayle grew older, she too would be there to lend a hand. On more than one occasion you would find her in the barn milking cows in the morning and evening. It was always a fun time for the family to be out on the farm helping Ray and Jeanne and to be one with nature.

It never felt like work when we were in the fields sitting on tractors, with the sun beating down in the early fall and the changing colour of the leaves. Of course, the best part was stopping for lunch in the middle of a grain or hay field, smelling the fall air, which was a mixture of earth and crops being harvested, all the while eating bologna sandwiches, homemade chocolate cake, and drinking ice cold well water and kool aid out of mason jars. Wonderful memories.

 

Allen Holtz playing horseshoes with colleagues and annual family BBQ.

Eventually, Allen and Shirley purchased land in the New Sarepta area, where Allen built a three-bedroom bungalow for Shirley’s parents Cliff and Vivian. He began that spring and completed it by Christmas.

Family, friends, and shop staff (on more than one occasion) would show up at the farm to help Allen with the construction, but building the home was truly a family affair. Gayle started off as Allen’s “gopher” (which was exciting until she found out what it meant) before getting her own hammer and tool belt from him, and standing side by side with him learning skills with her hands, how to read and understand drawings, and probably the most important lesson: the satisfaction of working a hard day and seeing the progress that one could make. These skills would last a lifetime. Allen taught her the value and satisfaction of creating and building something with your mind and hands.

In due course, a home was built for the family and Allen could then enjoy being in the fields on his own land. Getting away from work-to-work land was good for the mind and soul. He continued to do spring seeding and fall harvesting for many years.

Allen loved to cook, and he was pretty good at it. Breakfast was his favourite. Many a Saturday and Sunday morning, you would find Allen cooking up a storm with Shirley and Gayle waiting to indulge in pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, toast, and of course homemade syrup. 

One weekend each year, Allen and Shirley held a barbeque for their staff. Everyone in the shop and office would get together and enjoy barbequed steaks, baked potatoes, salads, and desserts. They would play horseshoes in the field and laugh and talk the day and evening away. Many would bring their trailers out and, in the morning, Allen would have a breakfast “fit for a King” with his staff and their families.

 

At 55 years of age, Allen decided he wanted to learn to fly, and so he got his pilot’s license. He had a yellow ultra-light plane that he built from a kit, and almost every weekend you could see Allen flying over the neighbour’s yards and fields checking things out for them. He also enjoyed fly-in breakfasts with new pilot friends that he made and on many occasions, you would find one of his three grandchildren flying with him.

Hard work took a toll on Allen’s body, and as the years went by and his health declined, he knew it was time to retire and start a new chapter of his life. You might think he slowed down after retirement, but nope! Not Allen. He was busier than ever! He joined a choir and traveled central Alberta, singing at senior’s complexes and nursing homes. He also volunteered at hospitals, nursing homes, and visited the bedridden at their homes. His days and nights were always busy doing what he loved: being with people, caring for them, and enjoying life.

Allen became ill and passed away on October 5, 2016 at the age of 81.

 

He leaves a legacy of wisdom and knowledge. Family, friends, and co-workers old and new will share their tributes of a man that cared about everyone. 

A man who worked so hard all his life. 

A man who was forced to start his working career with an eighth grade education and the burdens and responsibilities of family. 

A man who never gave up on what he believed in and always fought for the underdog.

A man who understood the value of a dollar.

A man who knew how to lead people with respect and dignity.

A man who knew how to listen and learn from others.

A man who enjoyed trying new things, whether they were building a plane, repairing a motor in a tractor, or the construction of a shop or house. He tried it and accomplished the job. 

A man who never gave up even when obstacles were in front of him. When you try something new you will be amazed at the results!

A man who knew the wisdom that working with your hands is an honourable profession.

A man who was proud to be an Albertan and Canadian.

A man who understood the reason why each of us should be proud of our heritage, and that to grow we must also learn about the struggles of others.

The wisdom to remember to not forget where we came from or how we got to be here. To acknowledge that each of us are different and “what a boring world we would live in if we were all the same.”

The laughter will never be forgotten, the practical jokes will always be remembered.

 

Gayle Holtz

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