A Dedication to Education
It’s one thing to have seen your in-plant start from the ground up; it’s another to now be the sole individual operating it. And while that’s the case for Rich Trottier, graphics supervisor of Lakeland Union High School Graphics in Minocqua, Wisconsin, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I see it helps educate our kids by helping [the] teachers out, and I think it’s important,” he says, noting that having been a freshman when the Lakeland Graphics Department was established in 1974, and having worked there as part of the school newspaper in 1977-79, he’s proud to do his part for a community he’s belonged to for years.
“Being a graduate from here [and being] involved in sports — I coached girls’ basketball for 20-some years — I know a lot of the families, a lot of the people,” he says. “It’s kind of a pride thing, too.”
The in-plant welcomes graphic design and print job requests from within the high school and all grade schools, as well as from nonprofit organizations, local churches, veterans’ organizations, and senior centers. Its work covers a wide scope, including newsletters, letterhead, sports programs, posters, flyers, envelopes, banners, and raffle tickets. Lakeland Graphics’ services also include design and document creation, digital file output, cutting, folding, perforating, laminating, stapling, booklet coiling, padding, tabbing, and even faxing. The shop completes more than 5,000 job tickets a year with multiple jobs on a ticket.
Trottier, however, shares that he has a limit on the jobs he’ll do for organizations, leaving local printers in the community to handle larger-scale jobs. Nevertheless, working with the local community is a win-win for him as some of the organizations provide scholarships to Lakeland Union students.
Evolving With the In-plant
According to Trottier, the Lakeland Union graphics program was created to get children from a nearby Native American reservation involved in a trade. A couple of those students, he says, ultimately started their own print shops.
After studying photojournalism in college, and with his history and interest in photography and graphics, Trottier was encouraged by a family friend, the local Lakeland vocational education coordinator, to apply for a graphics technician position with Lakeland Union. He started in the fall of 1982.
At the time, there were three employees in the department, which also enlisted student workers to help print and collate booklets by hand, stapling them using a Bostitich floor stitcher.
“We had a Varityper machine, had a waxing machine, and we laid out on light tables,” he reflects. “We had to shoot negatives and burn plates for all our jobs.”
Though he eventually took over as manager, Trottier left the in-plant for six years when he moved to Oregon with his wife, where she intended to purchase and run a restaurant. Though the deal did not work out, they stayed in Oregon for a year, during which time he worked at a college in-plant.
After returning to the area, Trottier worked odd jobs until learning his successor at Lakeland Union had retired.
“He called me and said ‘Why don’t you come back in? You know everything that’s going on,’” recalls Trottier. He started out part-time, working just four hours a day, and steadily increased his time in the shop.
A Solo Act
Now, with his secretary having retired in July, Trottier remains the only employee of the in-plant, working more than 40 hours a week writing up orders and handling production and billing. He also works year-round and never shut down during COVID-19.
“I am working long hours, but I feel like I am making a difference,” he says.
The in-plant also no longer utilizes student workers, as its technology, particularly the Canon varioPRINT 110, has made the need for such help less necessary.
“That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome them back anytime — it’s just that it’d be kind of hard to keep them busy,” says Trottier, who also taught graphics at the school for a few years.
Though the in-plant no longer has student workers, he does have a helping hand in the community with a former student, Scott Rautio, who started his own printing business called Printing Innovations and helps his alma mater with graphics and layout work, such as for the school’s sports programs.
“He helps me a lot and I help him a lot,” says Trottier.
This is just one of several former students whose achievements Trottier is quick to celebrate.
“One of my students [Marty Dumask] went down to a district south of us here in Wausau, [Wisconsin,] and he does what I’m doing, but he’s got the whole school district,” he says. He also notes another former student in Arizona who produces T-shirts and hats.
According to Trottier, wide-format printing, primarily banners, has been among Lakeland Graphics’ growing services. While the in-plant produced some COVID signage and floor graphics for the school on its Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8400S, the administration at the time was unfamiliar with the in-plant’s capabilities and outsourced this work.
One job that has really picked up for Trottier is workbooks, which teachers across different departments have students utilizing in the event the school has to go to virtual learning.
“They don’t have to present it and have everybody online,” he says. “That’s pretty smart of them; you‘ve got the work no matter what happens. I think that’s probably going to be a staple.”
Fulfilling a Need, Looking to the Future
Over the years, Trottier has not only strived to make improvements to the in-plant, but he’s helped save money where possible, despite the occasional challenges of working under changing administrations that fluctuate in their support of the in-plant.
This has included narrowing the number of purveyors he works with for procuring new equipment and systems to one. He would also like to group the paper, supplies, and copier agreements for the district’s six grade schools to avoid redundancy and save money. For now, his plans include shifting his ordering and billing to an online platform called PaperCut.
“We’re going to go to this program [where] the teachers enter [a job] and it automatically will figure out the price of, say, 50 copies both sides on blue paper, stapled; and at the end of the month, all I have to do is click a button and that all goes to bookkeeping,” he says. “It’s kind of a chargeback system.”
Trottier is also looking to add a Canon imageRUNNER digital color press, an investment that’s been in flux as he waits for a new administrator.
“Our cost per copy would be really reduced, and we could run a lot more color,” he says.
Ultimately, Trottier’s biggest priority is ensuring he’s fully providing what Lakeland Union High School teachers need.
“I strongly believe that you are a better school with an in-plant, servicing those teachers, and [letting] them spend more time teaching than worrying about making copies,” he says, noting that while there are several longtime teachers at Lakeland Union — a few were even there when he attended — he wants to make sure new teachers know and understand his program’s offerings.
“I run into teachers who have been here for a long time and are very grateful for the program. [Then,] I run into teachers that are coming in new from other school districts and they’re talking to me about how they can’t believe I get the jobs and turn them over as quick as I do. I’ve never turned down a rush job. I stop what I’m doing; that’s just the way I am.”
And that’s the way Trottier will continue to be, as a one-man operation dedicated to providing fast, quality work for his alma mater and community.
“I enjoy the job. I’m my own boss; I know what needs to be done,” he says. “I enjoy seeing how I can get things done most efficiently in a quick turnaround time. That keeps me going.”