When “Dr. Doom,” Larry Eils, retired as senior director of technical services from the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) in 2008, many were regretful. A friendly and entertaining speaker, everyone agreed Eils would be missed. Luckily, he agreed to stay on as a NAMA knowledge source partner and he still takes calls about the industry. But in his retirement, Eils is not loafing on the couch, watching TV, waiting for the phone to ring. With two rambunctious black labs to attend to, Eils and his wife, Marsha, are up at 6 a.m., and spend whatever time they can enjoying the outdoors.
20 YEARS AS A VENDING EDUCATOR
Having joined NAMA in 1985 after working as the Rock County, Wis. health officer, educating vending operators about food safety came naturally for Eils. During NAMA expos, he frequently reminded attendees there has never been a confirmed case of foodborne illness originating from a vending machine. What Eils never mentioned was how much of a role he played as director of health, safety and technical standards for the industry to make such a claim.
In his time with NAMA, Eils paid close attention to the federal food code and ensured that the requirements of the federal food labels were manageable for the vending industry. He explained the labels during industry conventions and answered numerous questions.
Eils also worked tirelessly to keep abreast of federal transportation rules, refrigerant recycling regulations, and numerous other rules. In the 1990s, he spearheaded NAMA’s plastic ring recycling for beverage six packs. Later, he oversaw the formation of the technical standards committee, a group of equipment and technology suppliers that developed uniform standards for electronic data in vending machines. Working with the industry software and machine manufacturers, both in the U.S. and Europe, to develop electronic data standards was one of Eils’ proudest accomplishments. “It has allowed the industry to improve their methods of operation to operate in today’s business environment,” he said.
FROM VENDING TO HOMESTEADING
On the outskirts of Harvard, Ill., which is known for its annual Harvard Milk Days celebration, the Eils’ house stands on six acres. Built in 1992 when they were living in Hoffman Estates near Chicago, both husband and wife always planned to retire in the country. “Looking for land to build on, we followed the train tracks,” said Eils. The train station is close to the house so Eils can get to downtown Chicago quickly.
The house’s 4-season porch allows the couple to continue one of their favorite pastimes year round — gardening. Shelves overflow with greenery around the windows, and beyond them is evidence of several flowerbeds back dropped by land filled with native prairie specimens.
“We both love plants,” said Eils. They have some large flower beds and are steadily increasing their vegetable garden. Last year, Eils built a gardening shed behind the peony flower bed. Some of the peonies, which were passed down from his wife’s grandmother, are more than 100 years old.
A CALLING FOR CLASSIC CARS
If not working in the yard, the couple might be cruising in their 1977 MGB, a classic British sports car Eils bought in 1987. As a member of the British Boots and Bonnets Car Cub out of Rockford, Ill., retirement allows him to attend the group’s meetings and events. In fact, this year he’s been elected events chairman, arranging monthly day drives and one long weekend for the 90 members of the club. In 2008, he overhauled the car’s engine, or helped anyway. “I’m a pseudo mechanic,” joked Eils. “I get the tools.”
Encouraged by a member of the car club, Eils also joined the Woodstock Wood Workers Club. In his modest workshop in the basement, he enjoys building and repairing whilygigs. These colorful garden sculptures use the power of the wind to turn a propeller that sets a whimsical scene in motion. During the summer, he displays his collection of whirlygigs on a section of the fence in the garden.