updated 12/22/2006 1:07:42 PM ET 2006-12-22T18:07:42

The founder of a Wisconsin company has surprised workers with some hefty holiday bonuses.

81-year-old Robert Kern recently retired from the company he founded, Generac Power Systems. He sold his share of the ownership and stepped down as chairman to focus on philanthropy.

The gifts from Kern and his wife vary according to length of employment. Some topped $40,000.

One man who has been with the company for 19 years says his jaw dropped when he got a check for $31,000.

A 9-year employee who got $10,000 says the gifts will change a lot of people’s lives.

The privately held company has more than 15,000 employees. The total amount given to workers isn’t known because the Kerns aren’t talking about it.

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