The weather stands out most when Don Zoubek thinks about the time he exchanged indoor work at a commercial printing business for outdoor work at Standard Oil.
The January temperatures hovered near zero for about two straight weeks, forcing him to invest in much warmer clothing. But the change in employment marked the beginning of a 50-year career and the establishment of the family-run Zoubek Oil Co.
“I was responsible for the inventory on this property because they had a company auditor that would come in about every six months and check all your records and your inventory and make sure you weren’t pocketing anything,” Zoubek said of his early years with Standard Oil, located at the corner of Queen City Boulevard and Prospect Avenue.
Back then, Norfolk looked significantly different than it does today. A metal scrap yard operated only blocks away. A service station operated at the corner of Seventh Street and Norfolk Avenue, where Black Cow Fat Pig’s outdoor patio now sits. A rail line brought fuel to Standard Oil, and a vacant field sat out back of the business.
“I think there was a four-stall garage,” said Don’s son Roger Zoubek of the site in 1970. “It sat really low compared to the street because all of the water came down into it.”
Don worked as an agent for Standard Oil, supplying stations carrying the Standard brand with fuel and soliciting rural and commercial accounts. But in the mid-1970s, Don was faced with a decision: Buy the business or get out.
“They called a meeting in Omaha,” Don said of the company’s corporate ownership. “There was probably about 60 guys there. They gave us a steak dinner, which we weren’t used to eating at noon. It was long enough for them to give a little speech — buy it or get out. We’ll give you a year to think about it.”
Although aware of the commitment it would require, Don said he moved forward and established Zoubek Oil, which became a family business when son Rick joined in 1978 and son Roger joined in 1979.
The business has weathered many changes and endured many challenges over the years, including pushes for tightened regulations on the fossil fuel industry and lean years for its customers in the ag industry.
In 1982, the business constructed another building at the Seventh Street and Prospect location from which it now runs.
Zoubek Oil customers today include ag producers, as well as manufacturing companies, trucking companies and others in the Norfolk area. The business also does fire training with its propane trucks with the Norfolk Fire Division and surrounding volunteer fire departments, Roger Zoubek said.
“It’s always a learning experience,” he said. “There’s always something new.”
Roger Zoubek said working with customers is the highlight of his job. After 41 years with the company and a recent health setback, he said going to work and meeting with the customers provide a regular reminder of why he enjoys the work he does.
Don Zoubek, who is now 88 years old, comes down to the company’s office every day, a presence for which his sons are grateful.
“Thank God he’s here because he’s needed,” Roger Zoubek said.
The feelings are mutual for Don Zoubek: “I’m proud of the fact that the boys are here and taking care of things.”