It all started on a softball field more than 30 years ago. There, longtime Derby resident John Stuhlsatz noticed his teammate, Kevin Payne, arriving to one of their games with grass-covered knees.
Finding out that Payne, owner and founder of TenderCare Lawn & Landscape, was down a couple of employees at the time and handling mowing duties himself Stuhlsatz was quick to offer his services – looking for something with more dependable pay than his gig in real estate.
Now, 33 years later, Stuhlsatz is walking away from the company where he spent most of his career having seen it expand from the ground up. Stuhlsatz joined TenderCare not long after Payne started the company – with his role evolving as the company grew.
“It just developed into more than just a mowing company and a little bit of landscape. It ended up to a point that we started bidding on large homeowner’s associations. We even got into property management on one of them,” Stuhlsatz said. “As something came up, we discussed it. My last couple of years I’ve been in charge of the irrigation. Off and on I’ve been in charge of mowing.”
After starting out in a seasonal mowing position in the fall of 1984, Stuhlsatz was offered a full-time gig while helping Payne move into TenderCare’s former location near the intersection of Baltimore Avenue and Kay Street. Eventually, that turned into a role as general manager at TenderCare.
Stuhlsatz admitted he did not know if it was the right fit at the time, but he wouldn’t have stayed for three decades if it wasn’t a great environment starting from the top down.
“If everything doesn’t click, it doesn’t make for a satisfying relationship. Kevin was willing to change. What I like about him is he was willing to do what it took to do a good job,” Stuhlsatz said. “That was something that he impressed upon us was that our reputation is everything.”
Payne was quick to credit the example Stuhlsatz set as well. Even as he continued to take on more managerial responsibilities, he continued to set an example for the employees working under him.
“He was out talking to the guys on a daily basis. Anytime they had a problem or anything, he was the guy. In some cases, he probably saw them more than I did,” Payne said. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done as far as being able to let the guys know how things had to be, and I didn’t have to worry. I had full trust in him all the time.”
Stuhlsatz originally moved to Derby in 1962, with his father owning and operating an insurance agency in town before relocating his business to Mulvane. He went to work for his father’s agency after getting married and also got involved in the Mulvane Chamber of Commerce during that time.
Following that career transition, Stuhlsatz continued to be involved, as Payne roped him into helping with the Derby Junior Football program. He also served on the USD 260 school board for eight years and was a board member with the Derby Chamber of Commerce for five years – serving as president for one of those years.
“I’m the kind of guy that just likes to stay busy and likes to be involved,” Stuhlsatz said.
Grateful for that opportunity to invest in the community, Stuhlsatz admitted he is ready to invest in family and friends heading into retirement. With three brothers and multiple friends entering retirement, the move had its appeal.
During retirement, Stuhlsatz said he plans to spend time “hunting, fishing and goofing around with everybody.” That includes his children and grandchildren, with one of his grandson’s already planning to take advantage of his additional free time and plotting a trip to Niagara Falls.
“For me, it’s very bittersweet because John’s meant so much to us,” Payne said. “But on the flip side of it, not only being an employee but being a friend, it’s like, ‘man, you need to go enjoy life.’”
Over the years, Stuhlsatz noted the biggest changes were moving away from physical labor into more managerial roles, as well as seeing the growth of the company – going from four or five employees to 40 in his time with TenderCare.
Given the relationships he built, and having the opportunity to engage the community both at work and outside of that, Stuhlsatz said the relationships are what will continue to stick with him as he transitions into retirement.
“The experience at TenderCare has been really good,” Stuhlsatz said. “I wouldn’t have stayed here for 33 years if they weren’t great people.”