Following his father’s footsteps, Ron Lechner sings through his years at the smelter while passing down his millwright torch.
Ron’s parents immigrated from Austria in 1957 and gave birth to him one year later at the Hospital Beach.
Raised here until 1963, Ron’s parents thought they’ve put enough time into the smelter and wanted to head back to Austria to spread their savings with the family. Selling everything they own, the family packed up the rest of their belongings and headed back to Austria.
“From what I understand a lot of Europeans did that. They came to Canada to make their fortune and once the money is saved up in the bank they head back home where the family is,” Lechner said.
However, Ron and his family were back in Kitimat, one year later minus one day, which was the day before having to reapply for their immigration.
“I guess he had a taste of good money. Plus, dad often compared his hourly wage in Austria to his wage in Kitimat, and for him money was important, so he decided we’re moving back,” Lechner said.
Living in Kitimat’s peak era as a multi-cultural society, Ron emphasized all the cultural functions he got to attend in his childhood.
“Being raised in Kitimat, I remember lots of Germanic functions like Christmas parties for the kids and father’s day picnics down at Hirsch Creek,” Lechner said.
Graduating in 1976, Ron worked a couple of side jobs before following his father’s career path, working at the smelter.
“During High School, I held several part-time jobs, working at the local marina as a mechanic and pumped gas, as well as working at the Volkswagen dealer in the service centre. After graduation, I worked at the furniture store that used to be in town here, before getting a job at Alcan,” Lechner said.
Having several titles within the smelter during his 38-year employment, Ron emphasized his gratitude to Rio Tinto and the number of opportunities they gave him.
“I had so many opportunities there because it was such a big place; I had five different career moves without having to leave the company,” Lechner said.
Ron’s first job at the smelter was in the pot rooms. Staying there for two years, he quickly moved into an apprenticeship program as a millwright. By 1981, Ron was working in crane maintenance, where his father was a supervisor. But in 1995, he took over his father’s title as supervisor before moving into the procurement group as a buyer in 2004.
“The money was good and time just flew. Plus, you know the old story, boy meets girl, girl becomes wife, wife buys house and three children later I am still here,” Lechner stated during an interview with Ingot Magazine in 2009.
In 2002, Ron added more to his plate and bought a local pizza store to help his son, Travis, attain full-time employment.
“You know the old saying; if your kid can’t find a job you buy him one,” Lechner said
His son ran the take/out and delivery pizza store for a few years in the Mountainview Square location and eventually moved to a vacant storefront in City Centre Mall, where it became a sit-in full-service restaurant. Shortly thereafter, Ron’s wife quit her job at the church, to run the restaurant when Travis got the opportunity to join the family legacy as a smelter worker for Rio Tinto. They sold the restaurant soon after Ron’s retirement from Rio Tinto in 2015.
As Ron was raised by a musically inclined father, he always had the knack for singing but never took it too seriously. Ron started singing publicly when Ron’s wife recognized his talent and signed him up in the church choir. “My wife signed me up without me knowing, I was upset at first but I’m happy she made me do it. […] I still don’t want to be a singer though,” Lechner said.
Though Ron was active with the church choirs and contributed his vocals when needed, he never really wanted to progress his singing career, until one year when the Telethon was looking for musical acts, Ron and his choir members formed the 50’s and 60’s cover band known as What’s His Name and the Other Guys, which lasted eight years. After a long run playing in other music groups, such as Midnight Sun and 24/7, Ron hung up the mic to have more time for the people around him.
”We would perform at weddings, telethons, and all-around Kitimat with our furthest trip out to Smithers. But after a while, the travelling got to be a lot; the bands were always trying to book gigs on the weekends which would take time away from my family. […] And we like to go camping on weekends or go out to a sunspot once a year,” Lechner said.
Passing on the musical gift, Ron’s sons are now also musicians themselves. Though his daughter doesn’t commit to the musical lifestyle like her brothers, she’s known to have a beautiful voice, like her father.
Now fully retired from all commitments since 2015, Ron still keeps himself busy and contributes to the community as he and his wife make lunches for the St. Anthony’s School hot lunch program, as well as volunteering for the church.
Now a grandfather with three kids, Ron and his wife hope to make it out to Portugal next year so they can show the kids where his wife’s parents grew up.
“We did a similar trip to Austria in 2016 with my Dad. Opa wanted to introduce his grandchildren to extended family members. He was also proud to show off his heritage.,” Lechner said
“We were supposed to go to Portugal last year to go see my wife’s family but travel restrictions put a damper on that. […] Hopefully next year we can go to though.”
Not leaving Kitimat anytime soon, Ron emphasized his gratitude to the community and how much he appreciates our town.
“I’m blessed to live here, the people are as kind as can be and I can’t see myself living anywhere else in the world,” Lechner said.