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Longtime Willmar jeweler calls it a career ... sort of

WILLMAR -- Now that he has closed a business that had been a part of Willmar's retail community for 50 years, Roger Setterberg is ready to let everybody in on a secret:Although he kept a six-days-a-week schedule, he never felt as if he was workin...

Roger Setterberg
The Mankato Free Press ran this photo of Roger Setterberg on the front page of its Sept. 28, 1957, edition. Setterberg was working at the community’s largest jewelry store at the time, and responsible for setting back the clock for the return to standard time. (COURTESY | MANKATO FREE PRESS)

WILLMAR - Now that he has closed a business that had been a part of Willmar’s retail community for 50 years, Roger Setterberg is ready to let everybody in on a secret:
Although he kept a six-days-a-week schedule, he never felt as if he was working. That’s the value of enjoying of what you’re doing, said Setterberg, who said he learned the lesson 65 years ago from his father, Wendell. His father was a jeweler in Cokato.
Roger was a 16-year-old apprentice when his father told him why he toiled so diligently.
“I find this more of a hobby than work,’’ Setterberg said his father told him.
“I thought it was a strange thing to say,’’ Setterberg said. Once he mastered his trade, he understood.
It’s also why Setterberg, age 80, isn’t exactly retiring with the closing of the well-known Setterberg Jewelers shop at 414 Litchfield Ave. S.W. He intends to continue some of his jewelry and clock repair work from his home.
The decision to close the shop at the end of February was made after he learned his landlord was selling the building, and he would no longer be able to stay in it. His wife, Shirley, encouraged him to retire.

“I think it is a blessing in disguise,’’ Setterberg said. He is now looking forward to having more time to enjoy his other hobbies, such as spending more time with his wife, fishing, and of course, continuing to visit over coffee with friends at his regular downtown spots, Frieda’s Cafe and La Estrella Bakery.
Setterberg learned much of his trade alongside his father. Both of Setterberg’s older brothers became jewelers and opened their own stores, each eventually moving to locations in Arizona. An uncle operated a store in California.
Roger Setterberg attended Northwestern College in Minneapolis, worked as a watchmaker at Powers Department Store and undertook graduate work at Mankato State.
He opened his first store in Litchfield, which he operated for seven years before opening a shop in California. After just one year, Roger and Shirley decided the Golden State was no place to raise a family.
They opened their next shop in the newly built Skylark Mall in Willmar in 1965. They moved the business to a downtown location on Fourth Street when Lundgren’s Jewelry closed, but left when their landlord increased the rent from $190 a month to $600. They moved to 414 Litchfield where the business remained for the past 40 years.
Downtown Willmar was a bustling locale when they first opened, and the business demanded much of their time. Shirley worked with her husband while also playing super mom. They raised two daughters and a son.
Their daughter Carolyn, who lives in Willmar, said it was only as she got older that she realized her mother was leading two lives. Her mother sent her and her siblings off to school every morning, worked at the store, and rushed home when the last school bell rang. “She’d be there when we walked in the door. That was pretty amazing,’’ Carolyn said.
The Setterbergs also operated S & N Jewel House in the Kandi Mall in Willmar for 16 years. It carried a full line of jewelry and gifts, much like their full-service jewelry store downtown.
Willmar has always been a good town for the business, Setterberg said. That doesn’t mean it has always been easy. Business plummeted by 50 percent when the downtown streets were torn up to install the city’s district heating system. He said the loss of business led him to sell the large street clock that had been in front of his business for many years.
The busy years saw the shop handling as many as 18 bridal registries at a time, and there was always work to repair jewelry and watches.
His most famous sale came in 1970, when he sold an eight-piece, 14-karat gold table setting crafted by Oneida and valued at $8,000. The sale was featured in three different national trade publications.
When it comes to jewelry, Setterberg has this advice to offer: It remains at its core a people business. A customer will always do best when dealing with a jeweler who can be trusted for his or her honesty and skill at the trade.

Shirley and Roger Setterberg
Shirley and Roger Setterberg

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