Locksmith trades in his keys for retirement

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Glenn O'Rourke, owner of Glenn's Lock and Key, is set to retire and would like to see an energetic young person take over his successful business. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Local locksmith Glenn O'Rourke was born and raised on the far south side of Chicago in Richton Park, IL. He graduated from Crete-Monee High School, which was recently demolished. An after school part-time job led the way to his career as a locksmith. 

Interesting job opportunity

"I went to work part time for an apartment complex after school. I picked up garbage and was the kid they called when they needed a mess cleaned up," he began. "They would call at 2 a.m. when the sewer backed up and I had to clean up the mess. It was a rough part of town so I never knew what I was getting into. I saw things no kid should ever see, such as cleaning up after a murder. There was a lot of crime." 

An employee that was the locksmith for the apartment complex quit, and Glenn's boss asked if he wanted to learn how to key locks. "I told him I would give it a try as long as it didn't interfere with school and school sports. I played hockey and baseball at the time," he told The Press. "In 1976 I started doing locks whenever someone moved out, was evicted, or murdered, I was the first guy there. They paid me a buck-seventy-five a hour. That was my intro to locks." 

Full-time locksmith

Glenn eventually made his way to Iowa following high school graduation, and met his wife, Julie (B0lsinger), who was working in Muscatine. 

The young couple headed out to Colorado in 1980. "We got out there and had no jobs and a U-Haul trailer," he laughed. "We found a place that would rent us an apartment. We still laugh that they rented an apartment to two young kids in their twenties. It was quite a culture shock; I had grown up in the city, but Julie grew up here in Guttenberg." 

He took a job with Eagle Claw Fish and Tackle working in their warehouse for a year and a half, but was eventually laid off with no chance of coming back. "I was looking for employment and came across a hardware outlet – Interstate Hardware that catered to high end contractors. They were the largest outlet between L.A. and Chicago," he noted. "We did all the hardware for major contractors who built expensive homes for very famous people. On average we ran 12-13 trucks a day to new home builders. I worked in the warehouse at first and then they found out that I had knowledge of locks." 

His new position kept him busy. "On an average day we would key 200 locks," he shared. "Colorado was experiencing a building boom – and they still are. When we purchased our home you could look out the window and see nothing but open sky, sagebrush and a horse ranch. By the time we moved, the horse ranch was replaced with a mall and the open sky was full of rooftops." 

The couple talked about moving their family back to Iowa. "Julie got a really good job offer with McKesson in Dubuque, so we moved to Guttenberg. Nobody wanted to hire me because they saw how much I made in Colorado and couldn't compete with that wage,. The cost of living in Colorado was so much more, hence the pay wage was higher," he commented. 

Branching out on his own

Steve's Ace Hardware, in Dubuque eventually hired Glenn to be their locksmith. "Word got out in this area that I did locks, and people started to show up at my door when I got off work to key their locks," Glenn commented. "In 2010 I had enough business that I eventually left the hardware store and opened up my own shop. Steve was very supportive and said if I ever needed to come back he would be happy to have me." 

Glenn's Lock and Key has been busy and steady since that time. "I get a lot of interesting things such as calls in the middle of the night because people are locked out of their cars or homes. I have worked on a lot of home safes – some of them pretty old. People buy them at auctions for nostalgia because they look like something they saw on Gunsmoke. The old safes from the 1800’s – I would take the panels off and read the wheels and figure out the combination."

Key master

Glenn stayed current throughout the years. "I took some refresher classes in 2009 to relearn a few things like master keying. The master key would open all 200 apartments, but each apartment had a separate key that would only open the tenant's door. Each key had to be made different. I had to figure all the mathematics for each key on paper so the pins correspond with the key cuts," he explained.  

The locksmith's career has been very interesting. "There are so many great stories! People are so appreciative. I have received so many nice thank you notes from people I have helped that were in need of my assistance," he shared.

Ready to retire

Glen is set to retire at the end of March. "People will still probably call me, and I'm sure I will still do a few odds and ends, but I am done with calls in the middle of the night and climbing up and down stairs. Julie and I would like to spend more time visiting our children and grandchildren – it's time," he said. 

Help wanted –  career opportunity

A local locksmith is clearly needed in Clayton County. "If a young energetic person was interested I would be will ing to train them and sell them my machines, inventory, key blanks and keying equipment,” Glenn offered. “You can make some pretty decent money because it is a specialty job and you are the only one that does it.” 

In addition to keying locks, Glenn has also offered advice to homeowners about the best security systems for their homes. “A young person could still work full time while they learned the basics,” he said. “It is also an opportunity to work from home – my storefront is my van.” 

Glenn is grateful for the many customers he has helped through the years. “I have encountered so many different things. It will be officially 13 years in May.  It’s a great feeling when you can help someone when they are locked out of their house or car, or need their locks changed so they can feel safe again,” he concluded with a smile.

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