He was also my first boss. As paperboys for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, best-friend Dave Dobbelmann and I had the pleasure of delivering under his regime in the early 70's.
As District Sales Manager, Mr. Ludke's life revolved around supervising paperboy's deliveries. As 14-year-olds, our lives revolved around earning cash for Sol's Supperette.
Mr. Ludke used this knowledge to motivate us to help him deliver "down-routes" - paper routes other kids had stuck him with by quitting without notice.
On normal mornings, Dobbs and I would each do our routes individually, starting at 4 a.m.. After rolling the papers with rubber bands and stuffing our canvas paperbags to the brim, we'd gallantly throw the strap over our shoulder and ride off into the darkness, struggling to keep our bikes upright as the load dangled off our right sides.
Our favorite mornings were those when Mr. Ludke pulled up looking for help with a down-route. It meant he'd first drive us around our own routes in record time so we could assist with the other. To speed the process, we'd hop onto the hood of his car and ready ourselves for his commands.
"Johnson! Do three, skip one, do two! Dobbelmann! Do two, skip one, do three!"
We'd then leap off the moving car, race to the houses, flip papers on doorsteps and dive headlong back on the still-moving car. Mr. Ludke would laugh like crazy while playfully accelerating sharply into curves as we sprawled across his hood feigning death grips on his windshield wipers.
It was the perfect trade. Mr. Ludke got his routes done fast and we got driven around ours in return. More often than not he'd treat us to a fresh cinnamon roll at the local bakery or slide us a few "points" which could be redeemed for neat merchandise from the newspaper company. The fact that he was fun - and our boss - made a good job even better.
Thanks to our paper routes, we had huge advantages. For one, we were rich. Relative to other eighth graders that is. We could go to Twin's games. The State Fair. The Dairy Queen. And of course, Sol's Supperette. Money earned ourselves ALWAYS spent better than money begged from a parent.
We also learned responsibility and self-esteem. It felt good to be important to the boss. It felt good to know that in the world of paperboys, we were two of the best. When Mr. Ludke threw us a compliment, it had all the impact of a ten dollar tip.
Looking back, it was really my first lesson in learning that we reap what we sow. The years since have proven again and again that it's one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. Without those six years of paper routes and Mike Ludke's guidance, well... I don't want to think about it.
Two and a half decades later, I learned that life has a wonderful way of coming around full circle.
Twenty years ago, my wife and I started our own newspaper in our local community - a stint that lasted three years. To help get the paper delivered, I hired 11 kids to work as paperboys and papergirls. One day early in that first year, I'd finishing my own deliveries, and decided to cruise into the kid's neighborhoods to see how they were doing. I wheeled the car onto Alcorn Road and there was Mike Mings, a 12-year-old paperboy, peddling his bike, canvas paperbag thrown over his shoulder, stuffed to the brim with rolled newspapers. OUR newspapers.
As we pulled closer, the enormity of this full circle hit me. Here was a fresh-faced kid -- just like Dobbs and I had been -- seizing the opportunity to earn some cash -- just like we had.
We drove next to him, asking how it was going. Suddenly, the road fell away and I was back to 1971. I no longer saw Mike Ming's face but Dave Dobbelmann's. He was grinning ear-to-ear. Looking closer, I caught my own reflection in that vision.
For one magical moment, one sweet instant of fulfillment, the me I saw, looked just like Mike Ludke.
Mike Johnson made the journey from jobs to freelance writer to entrepreneur to passive income and early retirement. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeLeeJohnson.com