Special to the EagleHerald
From left to right: Mark Swenson, Shirley Swenson, Oliver Swenson and Brian Swenson make up the family team that has owned and operated S&O Lock Service for 50 years in Marinette. 
Special to the EagleHerald

From left to right: Mark Swenson, Shirley Swenson, Oliver Swenson and Brian Swenson make up the family team that has owned and operated S&O Lock Service for 50 years in Marinette. 

MARINETTE — S&O Lock Service, one of the twin cities’ long-time family businesses, is celebrating an incredible milestone this year as it turns 50 years old. 

S&O Lock Service began in 1969, when Oliver Swenson, now 88, started the business out of the basement of his family home at 1027 Walnut St. in Marinette. Swenson had a full-time job with the Wisconsin Bell Telephone Company, but he worked as a locksmith after his day job and on the weekends. In order to offer his customers the best service, he took the Foley-Belsaw Locksmith course — a correspondence program promoted in magazines such as Popular Mechanics during the 1960s — and learned everything he could about the locksmithing field. 

“When the package came in the mail, when he came home from work, he was down in the basement until he got it solved,” said Swenson’s wife, Shirley Swenson. 

“It was kind of a hobby to start with,” Oliver said. “And then it became a business.” 

Swenson’s business grew, to the point where it was necessary to relocate it from his basement to its current location, W1219 County Trunk B, just outside Marinette in 1981. Swenson retired from Wisconsin Bell and became a locksmith full-time. In addition to locksmithing, he also began selling commercial phone systems and residential phones for customers, though S&O Lock Service eventually decided to sell its telephone servicing portion of the business to U.S. Electric & Phone in order to concentrate on locks. 

Swenson’s son, Mark Swenson, joined his father at S&O Lock Service in the early 1980s following his enlistment in the U.S. Navy. During his service, Mark took the same locksmithing correspondence program his father had, giving him something to do while he was at sea. Shirley quit her job at the Marinette School District and began taking care of the bookkeeping for the business as well, and the S&O Lock Service family business became a household name in the twin cities. 

In the early 1990s, S&O Lock Service purchased Lund Hardware and Lock Shop in Menominee, further growing the business. Oliver’s other son, Brian Swenson, joined the company after this purchase and following his years in college, retail and sales. Brian still remembers one of the first jobs he went on with his father, to help unlock a safe at the old RC bottling plant in Menominee. 

“I was a little kid, I was the one that carried the tool bag, I would walk and get another drill bit, stuff like that,” Brian said. “We opened it up, and I remember, as a young kid, my eyes got really big because the guy had a first-edition Playboy magazine in there.” 

Shirley said some of her more vivid memories of the business come from when she and Oliver relied on word-of-mouth directions to find where customers had locked themselves out, rather than online map services. On one occasion, the two managed to get their truck stuck on a back road while trying to find a group of tourists, and were able to make it home with the help of some Good Samaritans and family members. 

“There were a lot of weird experiences,” Shirley said. “Nothing earth-shattering, but certainly some stories to tell.” 

Along with living through the days before cell phones and GPS, and collecting a variety of stories from jobs throughout the years, Oliver and his family have left their mark on many of the ships that pass through Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Oliver worked with the engineers of the Coast Guard vessels and Littoral Combat Ships to find locks that met their specifications, to be installed aboard. 

Today, Brian and Mark operate S&O Lock Service as partners. The two purchased the business from their father in 2004. Shirley, now 84, still acts as the company’s bookkeeper from time to time, and Oliver helps out when and where he can. 

“This business has become so high-tech now,” Oliver said, of the changes to locksmithing through the years. “When I started, it was pretty much mechanical.” 

It’s been quite a run,” Brian added.