Elmer Zurakowski, the highest seniority hourly worker in all of General Motors, will retire this week following a 67-year stint with the Detroit automaker.
Zurakowski began his GM career in 1951 as part of an apprenticeship at Detroit's Plant 23. At only 18 years old, he embarked on a path that progressively supported not only himself but also his wife, son, and three daughters.
“When I started the apprenticeship I wanted to go into the wood field," said Zurakowski in an interview with local outlet WXYZ 7. "They said according to your tests it shows you would be better working with metal than wood. I didn’t know anything about metal, but growing up on a farm I used wood all the time. What they did, I think, they needed more die makers than wood pattern makers. But I went along with that and I was very happy with it.”
America was undoubtedly different when Zurakowski started at GM. The average cost of a house was $9,000 (compared to $200,000 today), and I Love Lucy launched into superstardom following its first episode in October of 1951. Throughout his tenure, Zurakowski watched his comrades build tanks for the Korean War and, in later years, helped assemble electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt at the company's Warren, Michigan facility.
He attributes his longevity to finding purpose in everyday tasks, along with genuinely enjoying his work.
“We have interesting people. There are natural teachers in there. It is an interesting place to work,” said Zurakowski, who's also a member of Mensa International, the high IQ society.
Prior to clocking in at work on Wednesday morning, Zurakowski stopped by his local United Auto Workers office to receive a plaque for his nearly seven decades as part of the industry's workforce.
“If you don’t get your pleasure out of your work, you are never going to know what pleasure is. If you think you are not having fun, start thinking differently,” he concluded.
From here, Zurakowski will dedicate his time to family and perfecting his craft of wood sculpting from the comfort of home.