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Enjoying the great outdoors, Cabela’s style

Jillian Stasiak | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

Jillian Stasiak | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 13, 2014 6:13AM



“Below in the deep there’s adventure and danger;

That’s where you’ll find Diver Dan!

The sights that he sees are surprising and stranger

Than ever you’ll see on the land!”

— From the theme song of the children’s program “Diver Dan” which debuted in 1961

Jillian Stasiak, 30, was born in East Chicago, raised in Hammond, graduated from Merrillville High School and has recently moved to Grant Park, Ill. She is single, enjoys competing in 5K obstacle courses and country-western music. She is the retail event coordinator at Cabela’s in Hammond.

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As far as being interviewed for this column, you come highly recommended by our mutual friend Mike Echterling. He says you’re a regular whirlwind on the job.

“Mike’s a great guy; he does all the hunter education classes here at Cabela’s.”

Yeah, old river rats like One-Eyed Mike, One-Legged Davie, Coyote, Chip, Skip and Flip are fine judges of character. I refer to those riparian raconteurs often.

“Are those your friends’ real names?”

As far as I know. It must be quite a difference for you living in sleepy Grant Park after growing up in industrial East Chicago and Hammond.

“Yes, I live on two acres out in the middle of nowhere. It’s nice and quiet. There were a couple of pheasants walking around the backyard the other day.”

How long have you worked here?

“Since the store opened; coming up on seven years.”

College?

“I’m still trying to finish up a degree at Purdue Calumet for marketing and finance. Since I’ve taken up the marketing position at the store it has made finishing up school a little more challenging.

“Up until about seven months ago, I also took care of the aquariums here at the store. I have a little more flexibility now.”

Tell me more about when you took care of the aquariums. I get the shakes every time I stare at all those trophy, wall-hanger lunkers swimming right before my eyes.

“There are three tanks; the biggest one holds 18,000 gallons. All the adult-sized fish are from when the store opened. We have largemouth bass, channel cats, lake perch, walleye, blue gill, crappie... .”

Any northern pike?

“We had one, but unfortunately he jumped out on us after hours. We started out with six small pike, but they became the bottom of the food chain — snacks for the dogfish and catfish.”

What do you feed these fish?

“Mostly worms and goldfish or minnows. Sometimes we’ll supplement with pellets, shrimp and freeze-dried foods in between feedings.”

You would have to get inside the tanks to clean them.

“Yeah, I’m scuba certified. The big tank is about eight feet deep. After a few minutes, the fish swim up to me to check me out. It’s like a whole new world underwater.”

Very cool. “She moves among creatures of frightening features; that’s where you’ll find Jilly Ann.”

“Come again?”

It’s a baby boomer thing. What does your marketing position entail?

“Pretty much anything outside of the retail world. This time of year we’re getting into the outdoor shows. We’ll have booths set up at the Chicago Boat & RV Show, the Hammond Outdoor Show, the Tinley Park Outdoor Show... We don’t sell many products there, it’s more promotional stuff.

“We also get into salmon tournament fishing, Boy Scout fishing derbies, all the events conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation are involved with.”

Do you like to hunt and fish?

“I don’t hunt, but I like to fish. Blue gill, bass... When I can, I love getting out on the Big Lake. I caught a 20-pound king salmon while trolling; he was a big boy. Through Cabela’s, I was able to go deep sea fishing in Maine. The company also paid for a trip to fish for walleye in Lake Erie.”

Do you enjoy what you do for a living?

“I love it. I’ve had so many great experiences. It’s great watching so many kids catch their first fish.”

How many hours do you put in per week?

“I’m scheduled 50; all salaried managers are. But once we get into event season, I’ll work 15 straight 12 and 14 hour days. There are certain times of the year when it can be grueling. The fourth quarter is definitely our busiest. The first quarter is usually the quietest.”

How’s business overall?

“It’s a very successful store. The Hammond location has done absolutely wonderful. In 2010, we actually won Store of the Year. We recently opened our 50th store in the United States. There also are a couple of stores in Canada.”

Jillian, my dad has been fly fishing for more than 65 years. When I was a kid, I remember him ordering poppers from a Cabela’s catalog for top water bass and blue gill fishing.

“That’s how it all started in 1961. Dick and Jim Cabela sold mail-order hand-tied flies for fly fishing out of the basement of their father’s furniture shop in Nebraska. From there, it just exploded. They eventually bought an old John Deere building and became one of the biggest and most well-known mail-order companies out there. For several years, the Cabela brothers didn’t take a salary; they chose to purchase more inventory and continued expanding their business.”

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Today, Cabela’s main headquarters along Interstate 80 in Sydney, Neb. takes up more than a quarter-million square feet. It is a true American success story.

And loyal, hard-working employees like Jillian Stasiak will continue to “plug” away, making sure the company stays that way.



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