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Angie Wieck, Published May 09 2012

Longtime Moorhead cabinet maker not retiring anytime soon

MOORHEAD – At age 73, Ron Nicklay has already been in the cabinetry business for 55 years. He says if his health holds out, he wants to make it 10 more.

“I’d rather wear out than rust out,” says Nicklay, owner of RJ Nicklay Woodworking & Cabinetry in Moorhead.

He also says he’s trying to hang in there until Jerry Lovold, his longtime friend and employee, turns 60 so they can retire together.

Nicklay hired Lovold in 1977 when Lovold was just 15 years old through what Nicklay jokes was a “work release” program at Moorhead High School. Through the program, students attended school until 1 or 2 p.m. and then worked for area businesses in exchange for a grade and school credit. Lovold has worked for Nicklay ever since.

“If he left me, I’d close the door and retire,” says Nicklay. “I wouldn’t be able to do this myself.”

Nicklay admits he leaves the heavy lifting these days to Lovold and his other part-time employee.

“They’re very protective of me, of what I do and don’t do so I don’t hurt myself,” he said. “At least my right arm so I can sign the checks. If I can continue to do that, they’ll push me around in a wheelchair if they have to.”

Nicklay began working with wood when he was about 8, making things such as lawn ornaments to sell. He had no formal training, and credits his skills to good parents, 13 years in 4-H and a teacher who let him spend his study halls in the shop.

After graduating from high school in 1957, Nicklay was hired by Rasmussen Cabinet Shop in Moorhead, where he worked until forming a business partnership in 1959. He broke off on his own in 1961, settling at his current location at 115 14th St. S. in 1963.

Repeat customer business and word-of-mouth advertising has kept his doors open all these years, Nicklay says.

“I don’t advertise. I have my name in the phone book, and that’s all. I would rather take that money and give it back to the people by not charging so much.”

Nicklay also rarely charges for simple jobs that can be done in the shop, and he believes it’s those good deeds that send paying customers his way.

After booking a large cabinet job worth more than $8,000 a few years ago, Nicklay asked the customer how he had heard about his business. It turns out the man had previously brought in a Boy Scouts pinewood derby car to be cut out and Nicklay didn’t charge for the work. He said he thought if Nicklay would do something like that at no charge, he wanted to be sure to give him his cabinet business.

Nicklay also mentioned a recent vanity redo he hopes will garner him some good word-of-mouth advertising.

He went over plans with the customer, but when the vanity was delivered, she didn’t like its height. Nicklay figured he must not have explained the dimensions and drawings well enough, so he replaced the vanity at no extra charge.

“It’s probably one reason we’re not rich,” says Nicklay, “but as far as I’m concerned, we’ve lived a very good life.”

As for Nicklay’s plans to retire at the same time as Lovold, Lovold appreciates the offer but said he probably won’t be ready to retire when Nicklay closes up shop. He has no plans to leave, though.

“It’s been a great place to work for all these years,” Lovold says. “Ron’s really easygoing, otherwise a guy certainly wouldn’t be here that long.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501

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