Don’t be fooled by the old-time, Bavarian-style facade of Endres Manufacturing’s headquarters in Waunakee.
“We are not a cheese shop or a chocolate factory. You wouldn’t believe how many tourists stop to ask what we make,” chuckled Sam Ballweg, the company’s president and fourth-generation owner. “While we look like a quaint chalet, we are actually one of the largest steel fabricators in Wisconsin.”
Endres began in 1926 by Ballweg’s great-grandfather Lawrence M. Endres. Lawrence found success with his inventions, including a folding drawbar and disc sharpener, and he earned 16 patents. In 1930 the business was incorporated and the name changed to Endres Manufacturing Co.
Larry Jr. was born in 1924 and started working at Endres when he was only 6. Larry invented his own variation of the folding drawbar in 1940. Larry enlisted in the armed forces in 1943 and was forced to close the company. When he returned home, Larry started fabricating steel beams for the increase in home building.
That was the beginning of the company’s structural steel business, which comprises over 95 percent of sales today. He also got into the pier business when a friend requested Larry build one. Larry saw it as an opportunity to keep employees busy in the winter.
Lawrence Sr. died in 1953, the same year Larry and his wife, Leona, had their daughter, Diane. Leona began working in the business in 1957 as the first full-time bookkeeper.
In 1966, after several additions to the original location on West Street, Larry bought a lot on Century Avenue and built a shop four times the size of the original facility. Larry gave the shop a Bavarian theme to reflect his German heritage. He added a park, Kappel Park, which from Memorial Day through Labor Day features live goats.
Sam’s father, Ken Ballweg, began working at Endres in 1965. He and Diane married in 1974. Ken is the CEO and owner, Diane is the EMC Foundation president, board member and owner. The foundation is the charitable arm of the company and has given more than $300,000 to area nonprofits since 1996. Sam began working at the company at a young age and became president this year.
Fifty employees work at Endres, and most have for more than 20 years. Several sets of siblings work at the company. “Family has been very important to our success over the years,” Sam said.