Woman works 60 years without taking a sick day

Thursday, September 13, 2001

BELVIDERE -- For 60 years and counting, Rita Ohlsen has not called in sick to work.

It's not that she never took time off from her job at packaging products maker Pactiv Corp. She took the occasional personal day.

But consider the public acclaim of Cal Ripken Jr., the Baltimore Orioles third-baseman who set baseball's ironman record by playing in every Orioles game from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998.

That was 2,632 straight games. Ohlsen, conservatively, has worked more than 12,000 days without calling in sick.

"I just like my job, and I like people," said Ohlsen, a lifelong Boone County resident. "This is my family here, my boys."

Ohlsen, 72, is the tool crib attendant at Pactiv's Belvidere plant. She was hired on Sept. 8, 1941, the year she graduated from high school, to unload paper at 34 cents an hour.

Her boss, Lee Zierke, has worked at Pactiv for 42 years and known Ohlsen even longer.

"She's my right hand; I never want her to retire," Zierke said.

Co-worker Carol Benhoff said Ohlsen is a dynamo.

"I wish I had the energy that woman has," Benhoff said.

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