Restore, Reuse, Rejuvenate or Repurpose

Cast-iron skillet

My maternal grandfather, Si (short for Silas), was, among other things, an antique guy. He was known far and wide (within a thousand miles or more of his small home-town in West Virginia) as being honest, forthcoming and, “true-to-his-word.” After college, I settled into a town mid-size town in Northeast Tennessee working for Kodak. Within the first year, my wife and I bought a house and selected a few local “antiques.” It turns out that the first guy from which we purchased a piece of furniture knew my Si and was extremely fond of him. He commented repeatedly how honest Si was and how people in the antique business would travel hundreds of miles to buy a piece of furniture from him and stay the night with him and my grandmother. Legacy!

As a young man, I remember spending summers with my grandfather (and living there on two occasions when my dad was in Vietnam or Okinawa) and helping him. We moved a lot of furniture and I also helped him restore pieces. Some of my favorite memories are of going to estate sales or attending the weekly auction with him (in the small Appalachian town of Gassaway). He’d also buy me a 5 cent bag of fresh popcorn and a drink. It was fun, even then! I worshipped him.

He was a man’s man. A former Yankee draftee (pitcher), a World War II Navy veteran, Sunday School teacher (men’s class for 40+ years), avid hunter and fisherman, Si was an all-around great guy. He was my hero! And he restored furniture on the side. For fun. It brought in some extra money. But mainly, it allowed him to connect with people and make an impact on their lives. Hero!

A few years ago, my maternal grandmother passed away. Si’s wife. She, too, left a strong legacy. Among other things, she taught 5th grade Sunday School for 50+ years. Know what I mean? She was also a hero (or heroine) and was a fantastic cook. Among her prized possessions was Wagner cast iron skillet that was her mother’s. She left it to me.

Now I’m a “guy’s cook” if you know what that means. I can cook hotdogs, tailgate food, and fix a mean fried baloney sandwich, but I’m not a cook by any stretch. I’ve learned to cook, grill, and smoke with the average “Joe” but I’m not a chef nor do I pretend to be one. But I enjoy cooking, fixin, or grillin most anything on the grill or in cast iron.

So when I received a Wagner cast iron skillet, I was thrilled. I added it to my collection of Lodge skillets, griddles, and Dutch Ovens. But there was something wrong. The “seasoning” wasn’t right. And I wasn’t able to use it. So it set it in the garage for a few years. About a month ago, I pulled it out, stripped off all the seasoning and restored it. Amazing! It’s now my favorite skillet. By. Far.

It has been restored. I re-seasoned it using flax-seed oil and it’s ‘slick.’ S.L.I.C.K. Fried eggs slide right out of the skillet and onto my plate. I like cooking with a skillet that has been in my family for 4 generations. Yes, I’m sentimental. And while many of you couldn’t care less, I enjoy it. I think about the people, the conversations, the challenges, the nourishment, the trials, and the successes this skillet has seen. It’s been through “thick and thin.” It’s been from WV to AZ to NC to the Philippines to KY to CT and, now, to NE. It’s helped provide meals to four generations of Scott-Irish and German immigrants. Gerwigs, McQuains, Douglases, and Cutlips. It’s a simple piece of iron that has been used, reused, restored, rejuvenated, and repurposed. It’s fried bacon and baloney, seared steak, and made turn after turn of corn bread.

The picture above is a Lodge cast iron griddle. It has only been in the family 5 years. But while I was restoring the Wagner, I took the opportunity to sand its handle and surface. It needed it! You see the process used today, while faster and less expensive, leaves a rougher finished product than when the Wagner was produced. So I spent several hours grinding, sanding and re-seasoning the griddle. It will be passed down to one of my kids.

We, like family heirlooms, can be restored. We, like good cast iron, can be rejuvenated. Great leaders understand this. Great leaders look to build upon great foundations. They look to build upon great character. Great leaders know that we can be restored, reused, rejuvenated, or repurposed.

Great leaders look for those with solid foundations. Did you know that one of the emerging trends for 2017 and upcoming years is to hire and fire based on character (not skill, experience, or knowledge). The great cast iron skillets of yesterday like Griswold and Wagner already know the lasting value of a great foundation, great bones, and great character. Do you? Are you a great leader?

Whether you own an iron skillet or not, please recognize the deep, foundational value of others. Perhaps they need a quick restoration of sorts. But you’ll never go wrong hiring those with character and strong foundations.

Where are you? Do you need restoring? Are there others in your space that need rejuvenating? Great leaders recognize others who have a great foundation. They recognize others with great character. Do you?

Dr. Robert Gerwig is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]

Photo by Author

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