Their buddy system gets an ‘A’ rating

Published 8:06 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

Hormel Foods Corp. employee Vanessa Wieseler did not need any prompting to talk about her reading buddy,  kindergartener Emilio Rangel Vela.

“He is so much fun,” Wieseler enthused, as she sat with the boy in the cafeteria of the corporate offices of Hormel Foods Corp. on Tuesday. “We have had such a good time reading together.”

Emilio agreed – heartily.

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“This is the best day ever,” he said, nodding for effect.

Emilio was not alone. About 50 students from Woodson Kindergarten Center have spent the past three months reading books with a Hormel reading buddy, as part of the program, “Reading to Inspire.”

Hormel employees and their young readers filled the cafeteria Wednesday morning during the finale of Reading to Inpsire. Eric Johnson/

Each week, Hormel buddies would hop onto a bus that took them to Woodson, to meet and read with their younger reading partners.

On Wednesday, the children came to Hormel for their last day of the program. The buddies came together to read “Franny’s Dream House,” or “Max and the Missing Pony.” Then, there were snacks to enjoy.

“Our motto for Hormel is ‘Inspired People, Inspired Food,’” said Katie Larson, who has been with the Read to Inspire program for all of its four years. Hormel employees work hard at their jobs, she added, but they also give to their community – and Reading to Inspire is one of the most popular ways.

“It really brightens our days – it energizes us,” she said.

“It feels really good to be able to give back,” Wieseler said.

Seventy-five corporate employees are part of the reading program. Fifty of those are regular readers, while the other 25 fill in as needed, she said.

Woodson Principal Jessica Cabeen said the partnership is valuable to the students. While teachers will often talk about a book’s structure during school studies, “the focus here is to engage our students, to support the enjoyment of reading.”

Hormel employees Shelly Buttshaw reads to Woodson Kindergarten student Phoenix Corporon during the finale of the 2018 Reading to Inspire program at Hormel Corporate North. Eric Johnson/

Hormel CEO Jim Snee came to watch some of the fun.

“It’s such a fantastic program — talk about a level of engagement,” he said, scanning the reading duos that filled the room.

Snee was introduced to some students, with one teacher noting that “Ms Cabeen is the head of your school; Mr. Snee is our leader here.”

The student looked up at Snee, who is over six feet tall. She grinned.

“Guess what! It’s my birthday today,” he confided, bending down.

The tyke began to sing “Happy Birthday” to Snee, who turned 51 Wednesday.

And, without any prompting and showing no sign of feeling uncomfortable, Snee bent down, grinning, and began to sing right along with her.