LITTLE CHUTE — One of Lori Verhagen’s favorite Bible verses is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). She is able to call on those words when dealing with challenges in the workplace, especially in one part of her duties.
In addition to serving as the vice president of operations, Verhagen is also the human resources director at Van Zeeland Manufacturing, Inc. Personnel decisions can be difficult.
“I do more operations stuff, scheduling, very hands on things in the shop,” she explained. “We don’t have a need for a full-time human resources person, so I do all the HR functions plus benefits and do a lot of the tech work. Having faith helps you through those challenges because there are some really tough things you have to do in HR. You hope you can do it with a bit of grace.
“People view you as not being such a great person, but that’s what I get paid to do,” she added. The decisions impact people’s lives, so you really have to make good, sound decisions. You make someone an offer, for example, and you have to pull it back because of the choices they made, but that still makes you feel bad. You just want to help them.”
Verhagen has been employed at Van Zeeland for 18 years following 13 years at Fox Valley Tool and Die in Kaukauna.
“I’ve had some really good leaders,” she said “John and Barb (Tetzlaff of Fox Valley Tool and Die) were amazing to me. Robin (Van Zeeland, president/CEO) really treats people like family. He is so respectful. He keeps your priorities straight.”
Verhagen contributes to creating a positive work environment. She includes handwritten messages in employee birthday and anniversary cards. She serves at employee lunches. She also assisted Robin in creating a Van Zeeland Manufacturing scholarship at Little Chute High School.
Lori and her husband, Keith, have two adult daughters: Rachel, who is engaged, and Anne Wittman, who is married to Micah. She is a lifelong member of St. John the Nepomucne Parish.
Faith conversations between Lori and Robin are common in the workplace. He encouraged her to take part in a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHS) weekend in 2012.
“It requires putting yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “I didn’t sign up until the day before. That’s how unsure I was of it. That weekend was one of the best of my life. That’s when I really had my God moment. Sharing that experience with your own family of parishioners gave me a new understanding of St. John’s.”
Lori, who had taught religious education in the past, became more involved in the church, including serving on the parish council. She is a part of a core team that is redoing the mission at St. John.
“I did a job description for the greeters and am working on one for the ushers,” she said. “We are trying to get everyone on board with our new mission statement. I want other people to feel this fire that I have in my heart. It took me a while to get there. Our vision is to be the most welcoming parish. How do we accomplish that? It’s not just Fr. Ron (Belitz, pastor) and our deacons. Everyone has to be a part of that. We all have to buy into this.”
Among the recent changes to make the parish more welcoming is having greeters at weddings and funerals at the church.
Lori’s faith has helped her deal with loss in her life, including a brother-in-law who died of cancer and her sister, Kris, who died in an automobile accident in 2005.
“That’s when you lean hard on God and try to find some understanding,” she said. “The guy crossed the center line and hit her head on. You go through all those phases of grief. When I finally got over being angry, I realized that I had no regrets. We saw each other a lot. We always hugged. We always told each other ‘I love you.’ Everyone she knew loved her. She lived two hours away and would be at my daughter’s track meets. We had a great relationship.”
Lori continues to seek ways to grow in faith. She has served on CRHP teams. In 2013, she made a trip with two friends to Rome shortly after Pope Francis was elected. During the trip, she was able to connect with Deacon Scott Valentyn of Little Chute, who is scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood for the diocese in June.
“We got a blessing in St. Peter’s Square,” she said. “Scott went to school with my daughter. He gave us a tour of the seminary. He took us on top of the seminary for an incredible view. I love Pope Francis. We visited Florence and Venice. Every day we were in Rome we would go to the Vatican.”
Verhagen also enjoys reading faith-based books. She recently read Mathew Kelly’s “Rediscover Catholicism.” She has also explored the works of Karen Kingsbury, an American Christian novelist, and “Home Sweet Rome” as part of a book club.
“Everything I do and read will hopefully make me a better version of myself,” she said.
Lori and Keith will celebrate their 30-year wedding anniversary this year. She said that plans for retirement cross her mind. She lives in her childhood home and will stay in Little Chute.
“When I reflect on things, my family has been so supportive of everything in my life. Robin has been so inspiring,” she said. “When I look ahead, I want to carve out a place where I can make a difference. I think I can at St. John’s.”