When Marie Wensauer was only 3, her parents divorced. Her mother packed their belongings and moved to the state of New York. Wensauer says that despite her roots in Oklahoma, upstate New York is her home.
“My mother remarried and I lived with her and her new husband. That’s kind of where it all started,” Wensauer says.
“Growing up I was really athletic,” she remembers, adding with a laugh, “I was on all the sports teams, and was kind of a tomboy. I mean, I’ve always been a little girly girl, but the welding came later.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to be. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I figured out what I wanted,” she says. Wensauer decided to follow in her family footsteps and took up welding.
Most of the men in her family worked in metal fabrication.
“My step-dad was an ironworker, my uncle was an ironworker, even my cousin was an ironworker,” she recalls. The family connection helped her dive right into the trade instead of going to school. “Welding gave me more than a college degree. I don’t regret it at all.”
Her career started around the late 1980s, during a time where things were very different – and a lot harder for women.
“When I first started, I had to put up with a lot,” she remembers. “Back then I was afraid of retaliation. I couldn’t do much about it then. I had someone come up to me and tell me that I was taking away a man’s job. That I should be at home taking care of the kids, cooking, cleaning.
“I turned to him and I said, ‘Listen: I’m a single parent. I’m the mother, and the father. I could either be making an honest living, or be on food stamps.’” She says that she pushed it aside and ignored it because she knew welding was her passion, and there was no stopping her.
Wensauer always took her job seriously. Every day she showed up to work, she gave it her all.
“Being a woman, I felt like I had to worker harder, weld better, and show them what I was made of,” she remembers. “I was at a job one time, and they asked me to slow down! The guys were complaining I was making them look bad. That wasn’t my intention, I’m just a workaholic.”
Things have changed since then. Wensauer says the attitude companies have today has gotten a lot better.
“What I’ve found in the past five years is, on every job, my employers go over sexual discrimination, harassment, and most companies, will not tolerate it,” she says. “Now, if a guy looks at you the wrong way on the job – he’s done.”
Being a single parent, the work wasn’t always easy. Raising her daughter required Wensauer to pay for daycares and hire evening babysitters. But things eventually became more manageable as her daughter grew up.
Wensauer knows a lot of women don’t think they have working in trades in them, but believes otherwise.
“A lot of women don’t think they could do it, but they can,” she insists, adding, “Welding pays very, very well. If a woman is serious about welding, or being on a construction site, they just need the mindset that they’re there to do their job and that’s it … if you go to work like that, you have it made.”
And things did pay off. In her final years before settling down on her farm, she worked a number of specialized welding contracts – mainly on nuclear power plant shut-downs.
“I did four of them back-to-back,” she remembers with pride. “As a single parent. I did really well. Between the specialty companies and overtime, you can make on average $150,000 annually.”
She says it also helped to be a part of the union.
“The thing is, there aren’t enough welders, and there definitely isn’t enough female welders. Union welders have to be good,” she says. “Let me tell you something, women are perfectionists. Maybe that’s why I became a welder. I can tell you that at one point, I was one of the top ten women welders in the country. If you stick with it, and you get in, they can make some seriously good money, more than a person with a college degree.”
Wensauer has 22 more months before retirement and when her time is up she’ll still stay busy – pursuing her new dream of raising American Quarter Horses on her farm and working on new hobbies.
“If you work hard it pays off,” she says. “When I retire here, I’m still going to weld. I want to start working on creative welding projects.”
Until then, Wensauer says she’ll keep going to work with the same attitude. Why? Because she loves her job. And even though she’ll have to wait before she can start raising show horses, she can still ride them.
Marie Wensauer show riding an American Quarter horse. (Source: Marie Wensauer)