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50-year employee of Willmar, Minn., drugstore: You have to like what you're doing

Mary Wickersham of Willmar has worked for Thrifty White Drug for 50 years and does not plan on retiring. She has worked for seven managers: The current one is her nephew. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- You have to like what you're doing when you work for the same company for 50 years.

Just ask Mary Wickersham.

She started working at the Thrifty Drug Store on Fourth Street Southwest in downtown Willmar on Sept. 20, 1961. When the store closed in 1990, she moved to the Skylark Center store and continues at the front counter where she serves customers, many preferring a smaller store to a larger chain store.

"You have to like where you're working and what you're doing to stay in one place,'' says Wickersham. "I have always liked it.''

Wickersham has worked for seven managers -- Larry Knight, Stan Walters, Tim Kremer, Tom Wells, Jim McCall, Marty Ouren and the current manager, her nephew, Dan Twedt -- and she's liked them all.

"I have been very lucky and they treat you (well). That's why I've stayed. I've liked talking to people and the hours are nice. I've been full-time the whole time. I plan on staying as long as I'm able to,'' she says.

Wickersham is the only employee in the company of 83 stores in six upper Midwest states to have worked that long. In recognition of her service, the Willmar store held an open house on Sept. 20 and many people attended, including the company president.

"We hardly ever see him,'' Wickersham chuckled.

The lapel on Wickersham's white jacket sports two diamond pins: one for 25 years of service and another for 50 years of service.

"It's always been a nice place to work and they treat you like family,'' she said.

Wickersham worked at the downtown store during her senior year at Willmar High School from 1959 to 1960. She left town for about a year, returned in 1961 and looked for work.

Since Wickersham had previously worked at the drug store, she knew the employees. She walked in and one of the gals asked Wickersham if she wanted to work there. She said yes and was told she could start the next day.

She worked most of the time in the cosmetic department. Back then, employees provided more individual customer service.

"It was more one-on-one; then it went to self-service,'' Wickersham said. "I still take care of that department, but I work all over. I do a little bit of everything.''

Growing up in Willmar, Wickersham was familiar with the little drug store.

"Everything was downtown, so you were busy, busy,'' she remembers. "We had a little lunch counter in there that brought in a lot of people for coffee and lunches.''

Wickersham sees a number of regular customers, including those who patronized the downtown store.

"One of the nice things about a store like us is that it's been in Willmar all these years and people do stay with you.''

She continues: "If I'm at the front counter, we always strike up a conversation. We're always chatting about people and that keeps me knowing people. And as people get older, they love talking to people and you don't get that in bigger stores. I'm sure that's one of the reasons that they've stayed at a small store like us. They don't like to be herded through like at other places.''

During 50 years of service, Wickersham says she did not miss many days of work and said many years she went without missing a day. Chances are she'll continue working as long as she can.

"I could retire,'' she said, "but I like working, talking to people.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150