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By Grace Kim - Grace.Kim@dwd.wisconsin.com
October 18, 2021
MARSHFIELD, WI – Numbness spread throughout Butch's right leg, leaving a phantom tingling sensation in its wake.
In the months that followed, a deep, fatiguing ache radiated from his hip bone. For six painful months in 1986, this was 30-year-old Clarence "Butch" Oertel's life. As a plumber and mechanic, lifting heavy water heaters and furnaces for installation made the pain unbearable.
Finally, Butch went to see a doctor who recommended back surgery, which left him bedridden for 10 days and in an abdominal body cast for almost a year. And for almost a year, Butch could not return to work or bring in any income for his wife, Mary, and toddler son, Chris.
"I felt terrible, useless, and hopeless," Butch, now 65 years old, recalls. "I grew up on a farm with a mother and father who both had strong work ethics, and so I grew up in an environment where I always worked. It didn't feel right that I couldn't do anything for my family."
"Our son was not even in kindergarten," Mary says. "I remember having to call the bank to figure out how to adjust our mortgage because we were now only living on my income."
While Butch was eventually able to return to work, the pain persisted. After years of more hard manual labor, the numbness returned to his leg, and his doctor told Butch he needed to stop.
"I felt sick about it when my doctor told me to stop working," Butch said. "I was still young at the time and I had a family to support. I didn't want to go back to feeling useless."
That was when his doctor, Dr. Tom Faciszewski at Marshfield Clinic, told Butch about DWD's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Butch had never heard of DVR, but he was desperate to learn and do anything that would help him keep a job.
Butch contacted his local DVR office and started working with DVR Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Paul Untiet. With DVR funding and resources, Butch enrolled in a six-week entrepreneur class at his area technical college. Working closely with Paul and local DVR staff and partners, Butch developed a business plan that reflected all the accommodations he needed to minimize his health issues.
"I was so used to working under somebody that it was very exciting to think about being my own boss," Butch says. "I am just so thankful for everything DVR has helped me with."
In 2003, after careful business planning and DVR resources and services, Butch became the proud owner and sole proprietor of Butch's Service LLC in Marshfield.
"DVR gave me the opportunity to support my family," Butch says.
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is organized by U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and celebrated every October, Butch was nominated by DVR staff and selected as an NDEAM Exemplary Employer award recipient. Businesses are selected based on their contributions to the mission of NDEAM.
"I'm just a simple guy," Butch says. "I don't need recognition or awards. If anything, I want DVR to be recognized for changing my life."
Butch's Service LLC exemplifies how helping people with disabilities achieve their employment goals increases their opportunities, expands the talent pool, and benefits communities.
"Just because you have a disability, doesn't mean you can't be useful," Butch says. "For almost two decades, I have been able to have a successful business, support my family, and have sense of purpose – all because of DVR."