The Self-Starter: An Alum Profile

Meet Vern Discher, ’48 Engineering Drafting & Design Technology

Discher_Vernon1Visit Vern and Shirley Discher’s Prior Lake home and you’ll see Dunwoody pride. A Dunwoody pennant hangs over the door in the den. Certificates acknowledging Vern’s membership in the Dunwoody 50-Year-Club and the Legacy Association are displayed on the wall, next to scores of family pictures and a map showing the couple’s travels around the world and to all 50 states.

“Shirley and I have been truly blessed in our journey through life,” says Vern. “This isn’t a ‘me’ story; it’s a ‘we’ story.”

The couple met on a double date in Minneapolis when they were still in high school. Vern was hooked instantly, but marriage had to wait until after he completed his military service in Germany and graduated from Dunwoody.

Once he had settled into work at West Bend Aluminum Company (a job the College arranged for him), he and Shirley launched their life together.

In the following years, Vern moved through a series of positions that built his knowledge of extruded aluminum manufacturing and sales.

“I was always looking for better jobs with higher pay, so I moved around from company to company in those early years,” he explains, admitting that there were a few times when he tried some “wild scheme to be my own boss” that didn’t work out. “I think I just had a built-in desire to be independent,” he explains.

In 1975, he was named general manager of Northland Marine, a division of Northland Aluminum Products that manufactured marine windshields and portholes.

The company was struggling, and Vern and CEO/owner Dave Dalquist turned it around by moving into extruded aluminum fabricating, an industry Vern knew very well.

With a new name of Northland Fabricators and a new product line, sales took off. In 1979, when Northland Aluminum was ready to sell the division, Vern and plant manager Larry Holen, bought the company, renaming it Norfab.

“A lot of the success of Norfab was my ability to hire the right people,” explains Vern. He focused on sales, and let other people do their jobs.

Shirley was often at his side at trade shows, business dinners and calls on key customers. “She did an excellent job,” says Vern. “She loved people and people loved her. We’d go to a trade show, and they’d show up at our booth and say, ‘Where’s Shirley?’”

In 1987, Vern sold his share of the company and retired to travel the world with Shirley.

“I have great personal pride in the fact that after more than 25 years, Norfab is still very much in business and that most of the employees that were there when I left are either still working there or have retired from Norfab.”

“When I look back on my career, I see that things just evolved,” says Vern. He’s pleased to see that Dunwoody continues to evolve too. “When I was there, Dunwoody was all drafting boards and tee squares,” he remembers. “Now it’s all computers. It fascinates me to go through it and to see what the young people are doing and the things they’re creating.”