Nearly 75 years after Sporlan first established roots in Washington, the company’s first employee, Omar Tobben, still looks back at the many years, and fond memories he made during his 48 years there.
Omar Tobben, 92, and his wife Rose, 90, Washington, have many accomplishments on which to hang their hats. Both, however, agreed that their family was their proudest accomplishment.
Over and over, the couple moved the spotlight from themselves onto their children, all of whom are accomplished, professional and educated adults.
The boasting wasn’t without cause. Their oldest son, Dan is an attorney at a law firm in Clayton; Tom recently retired from a CPA job that he held for 32 years. Mark is a dentist in Washington. Ann is a registered physical therapist in Columbia. Paul is a neurologist in Charlotte, N.C. Cathy is a banker in Evanston, Ill. and their youngest, Theresa, is a counselor at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School.
In case you lost count, that’s seven children with a total of eight bachelor’s degrees, five master’s degrees and three doctorate degrees among them.
For a span of 20 years, the couple had a child attending the University of Missouri-Columbia.
They also have 16 grandchildren and just celebrated the first birthday of their twin great-grandchildren, a boy and a girl.
Tobben said he stressed education in his childrens’ lives.
“I know during my lifetime what an education could have done for me,” he said, adding that he didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school.
Still, in 1937, Omar was able to get a highly sought-after job at Sporlan. There, Omar worked in assembly, soldering and braising refrigerator valves. At the end of two years, there were four employees.
At the time, he said, there was only one chair in the entire building. Omar now has that chair at his home, which was given to him by the company owner.
“We had to find boxes to sit on. There were no fans and lights hung from the ceiling with a green shade over it,” he said.
Early elements were numbered to keep a history of how many were built. Omar also kept an element numbered either 1 or 11, which was made in the first year the plant was open.
During the war, Sporlan began making navigation equipment for bombers.
“At work, I enjoyed most designing and building equipment. It was a real challenge,” he said, adding that it was an honor to work with Mr. Lange, the man who started Sporlan.
Omar climbed the ranks at Sporlan, and when he retired, he did so as plant manager.
Omar remembers carpooling to work and early employees building a tennis court outside the building.
During his time at Sporlan, Omar was honored by the Missouri House of Representatives, as he “achieved great personal success through many years of hard work and dedication.”
A resolution presented to Omar was signed by Bob F. Griffin, speaker of the House during that time.
Near the end of World War II, In 1945, Omar joined the Army and was stationed at Camp Crowder. He was in the signal corps and later became an instructor.
For some time, he worked at the radio station WAR, Washington Army Radio, in Washington, D.C.
The station, near the Arlington Cemetery in Fort Meyer, was broadcast 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Omar’s job was to maintain the transmitters. If power was to go out, he was responsible for getting it back on the air.
“There was a diesel engine with enough power to run 12 20-kilowatt transmitters,” he said. “We could broadcast anywhere.”
Omar said he didn’t have any idea what he was transmitting, because everything was in code
In Washington, D.C., Omar made friends with Rose’s brother, George Latz. Both were instructors of Company K, a school that taught radio repair, how telephones worked and how to work on small generators and engines, among other things.
George invited Omar to Houston to spend a three-day break.
It was during that break that Omar met Rose. The two immediately hit it off and were married July 10, 1946 — 66 years ago, at All Saints Catholic Church in Houston, Texas.
At the end of that year, Omar was discharged from the army and went back to Sporlan to work. He was in the Army for 18 months.
The couple soon started their family. Rose, who had been working as a stenographer, decided to stay home with the children.
“That’s what I was called to do,” she said.
This past April, Omar took part in the Franklin County Honor Flight. Rose was worried about Omar traveling, but was told he would be well taken care of.
“I can’t say enough good things about Ann Schroeder,” Omar said, adding that Schroeder helped him throughout the entire Honor Flight experience.
“I enjoyed every place we visited,” he said. “I was surprised that I stood up through the whole thing!”
Though Omar was provided with a wheelchair, he was so excited he walked the entire day, often pushing his own wheelchair.
One of the highlights, he said, was when a couple from England thanked the group for their service and told them how much World War II impacted the people of England, who were “under the blitz from the Germans.”
“People were in tears telling me how thankful they were,” he said. “It was quite an honor, being recognized like that. I didn’t think I did that much.”
Omar has an appreciation for music. He began playing trumpet in the St. Francis Borgia Grade School band, called the Washington Boys Band, in about sixth grade. It was the only school band in Washington at the time. He then joined the Washington Elks band and the Washington Brass Band, where he played baritone. He retired from playing about three years ago.
The couple are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
Omar also was on the board of directors at the vocational school.
Now, the couple enjoys visiting with their children and grandchildren and watching sports games on television.
“It’s the best time of our lives when the children and grandchildren visit,” Rose said.