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McMahon receives Patriot Award

Neenah engineer/architect firm has strong record of supporting active-duty employees

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September 9, 2022

NEENAH – As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Mike Katzenberger said his active-duty status has caused several issues for him with past employers.

“I’ve had sudden changes in schedules and longer time off for Marine Corps duties, I’d have to come in early to make up time needed for the Marines or use PTO (personal time off) days,” he said. “They weren’t very understanding of my Marine Corps duties.”

Katzenberger said all that changed when he began working for McMahon Engineers/Architects in Neenah about a year ago.
“McMahon has been great to work for and is the exact opposite,” he said. “They haven’t required any of (what my past employers made me do). Instead, the company has been extremely flexible and even watched my house when I was on active duty.”

Katzenberger said that flexibility and understanding prompted him to nominate McMahon’s Nick Vande Hey, the vice president/senior municipal and water resources engineer, for the Patriot Award – which recognizes supervisors/managers for the support provided directly to guardsman or reservist employees.

Spouses of service members are also eligible to nominate their supportive supervisor.

Vande Hay was presented with the award by LeRoy Frahm, ombudsman director of Wisconsin, in a late August ceremony at McMahon.

“This organization was chartered back in 1972,” Frahm said. “We realize the importance of working with good employers, so we have a progressive system. The only way an employer can get this award is from a service member employee nominating them.”

Frahm said every state has a Patriot Awards volunteer committee that accepts nominations each year.

“We’ll see anywhere from 200-300 Patriot Awards given out annually in Wisconsin,” he said. “It depends on how many service employees nominate their employers.”

A sense of value
Katzenberger, who grew up in Watertown, Wisconsin, said he enlisted in the Marines right out of high school.

“I’ve been in the military for five years now,” he said. “I’ll have to decide next June if I’m going to reenlist or what my next move will be.”

Katzenberger said because of his past work experience, he never imagined he’d nominate an employer for the Patriot Award.
“When I started working for McMahon, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, sometimes employers are great and deserve these things,” he said. “In the past, it’s mostly been misunderstandings. Usually, it’s working the other way where military personnel has to fight for rights, so it’s nice to recognize an employer for doing the right things.”

Katzenberger said there are several reasons he nominated Vande Hey.

“Not too long ago, I went into Nick’s office and said, ‘It’s coming – I just got the call (for a deployment),’” he said. “Nick was extremely understanding. His first reaction is always, ‘What can we do for you?’ or ‘How can I help?’ It’s been a complete 180 from what I’m used to, so it twisted my arm to nominate him for the award.”

Vande Hey said he was “blown away” by the nomination.

“When Mike sent me an email, the headline read, ‘Patriot Award,’” he said. “I thought, ‘Mike is a deserving guy for this award.’ After I read the email, it became evident it was an award nomination for me and McMahon.”

Vande Hey said McMahon is honored to get the award.

Mike Katzenberger, left, and Nick Vande Hey pose with an American flag cake Aug. 23 at McMahon Engineers/Architects in Neenah. Rich Palzewic Photo

“It’s been great,” he said. “What we do to support Mike, and what we’ve been doing, is a small thing compared to the turmoil (being deployed) creates in a person’s life. The company has outstanding policies (when it comes to military personnel) which allow me to do what I do. Our group of engineers has also done a great job of stepping up and filling in on projects Mike was working on – it’s taken a team effort.”

Vande Hey said he didn’t even know the Patriot Award existed before being nominated.

“This was new territory for us,” he said. “A lot of what we’ve done is what we do as a company. We’ve reserved the right to go above and beyond to help our employees when needed. Hearing about Mike’s past experiences gave us a good perspective on how we’re doing.”

What can businesses do?
Vande Hey said Katzenberger’s situation gives McMahon insight on how to deal with it in the future – if it occurs again.

“One thing we did – it was new territory – for Mike was to maintain his salary while he was gone,” he said. “That made Mike whole – we didn’t think it was right for him to sacrifice his income due to his deployment. We also made sure he was good before and after. I know there are other companies out there who do a solid job like McMahon does, so I want to commend them as well.”

Frahm said there is another priority companies should put at the top of their list.

“It’s important for them to review their handbook on military leave,” he said. “That’s where some companies get into trouble. Companies need to be specific, so we help them review their handbooks.”

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