Love letters to the brand

When a company is successful enough to reach its 75th birthday, history is bound to repeat itself — sometimes in the most remarkable ways.

Take the stories of Dick Snyder and Rick Mackie, both lifelong Mercury employees, whose career paths — though separated by 30 years — are eerily similar.

Both men grew up boating near a family cottage, Snyder in Wisconsin, Mackie in Michigan.

It was on that Wisconsin vacation lake that Snyder saw his first Mercury outboard, and “fell in love,” he said. Back at home in Illinois, while most 16-year-olds were saving money for cars, Snyder bought his first Mercury outboard. During his junior year in high school, Snyder went to the Chicago Boat Show and asked at the Mercury display about future employment. He was told to write the head of engineering, Charlie Strang, which he did. He inquired about the course work he should take at college and other recommendations for landing a job with Mercury. Strang replied and the two began corresponding.

In 1971, 10-year-old Mackie watched his older brother build a small boat, then helped him work on a Mercury outboard to power it. He began writing letters to Mercury Racing, requesting decals and product literature. In return, the youngster sent pictures he drew of boats with Mercury motors.

During his third year at the University of Illinois, Snyder again wrote Strang, who invited him to Mercury for a visit. After a day of interviews, Snyder was offered a job upon his graduation — still more than a year away. He started working at Mercury in 1959.

While a high school junior, Mackie landed an invitation for a tour of Mercury Racing. Afterward, “Mike Butler told me to contact him about a job when I had my degree,” Mackie said. They kept in touch by mail.

In the summer of 1988, Mackie’s phone rang. It was Butler, asking him to interview for a product support specialist position. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Snyder is retired, but still consults for Mercury on patent, safety and legal issues. Mackie is the senior marketing manager for Mercury Racing.

Presidential power

The power of the President, in the case of George H. W. Bush, also means horsepower, and Mercury Marine has powered Bush family boats since 1974.

It was then that the future 41st President of the United States, an avid boater and angler, purchased a 28-foot Cigarette boat powered by MerCruiser sterndrive engines. “Fidelity” became world famous, serving Bush — through two engine repowers — until he left the White House.

Wanting a replacement better suited to fishing, Bush took delivery of a 31-foot center console Fountain with twin 200hp OptiMax outboards during a visit to the Fountain factory in 1998. Bush traded up in 2004 for a 34-footer with 275 Optis and again in 2006, when Fountain owner Reggie Fountain and Mercury executives delivered a 38 Fountain with triple Verado outboards to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Mercury sponsored the George Bush Bonefish Tournament, benefiting the Barbara Bush Foundation and the Florida Conservation Association, and the former President was the keynote speaker at Mercury’s dealer meeting in 2000.

Jack Litjens (Mercury years: 1970 – 2008)

Jack Litjens jokes that he was hired by Mercury Marine because the company basketball team needed a forward. Litjens had become a local high school basketball star after emigrating with his family from the Netherlands to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Litjens’ said his first job with Mercury was to “break things;” running engines to failure or hitting logs in the water at 40 mph. “It could be intimidating,” said Litjens, who had no previous boating experience. He once struck a sturgeon on the Fox River that landed in the boat with him.

While he might not have pioneered underwater photography for use in product development, he refined and improved the process at Mercury. But the job that gave him the most pride was his last assignment at Mercury: “I was the primary guinea pig in testing the Verado engine,” he said. Mercury introduced the game-changing Verado outboard in 2004.

Though he’s now retired, Litjens provides fishing tournament support and special testing services for Mercury. “I’m still living the dream,” he said.