The hardest-working man I know has had a quiet kind of career by most standards.
He once was a partner in a business, but it didn't work out like he'd hoped. Since then, he's worked for someone else, at one job, at one store, in one small South Dakota town.
He never got rich, pulling in an average salary that enabled him and his wife, a teacher, to make the house payment, feed themselves and their two kids and take the occasional family vacation.
He started his professional life as a barber, a solid career option in the early 1960s. However, as the children came along, he decided he needed to make more money. He tried his hand at a few side jobs, selling insurance and repairing television sets. But it was barbering he loved.
Then the trends of the time caught up with him. Even in little Yankton, S.D., men stopped coming in for weekly haircuts, and some even (gasp!) started going to beauty salons to have their hair "styled."
In 1976, as the barbershop struggled, he knew he had to try something else. He had heard about an opening for a store manager and sales clerk at the local Rexall Drug Store. He approached the store's owner, who was one of his customers.
That man, pharmacist Ken Jones, says he was surprised and delighted when his barber asked him about the job.
"It was kind of a no-brainer," Ken says. "He didn't have to ask twice. We were happy to have him join the company."
So he left barbering, though he kept his skills sharp over the years cutting the hair of his former partner, of his little son and, eventually, of his grandson.
Gradually, he became a well-known figure and customer favorite in what he calls "beautiful downtown Yankton." To his employers, he made himself more valuable by gaining new skills. Eventually, he served as a pharmacy technician in addition to completing his retail management duties.
"He really was very flexible in his endeavors at the drugstore," Ken says. "He always had a terrific attitude, and he's just a positive person and was a great asset to the store. …
"He's been one of the people that I've admired for all of his great industry and Christian principles and giving and selfless attitude. It just is remarkable. It's criteria that you don't find that frequently anymore, unfortunately."
Sooner than anyone could have imagined, but after decades of slinging liquor cases, conducting inventory and soothing customers worried about their health, he reached retirement age.
He didn't quit, though. The store had become a part of him by then, and he kept clocking in, even after a bout with cancer. He did whittle away at his hours and is down to about 12 a week now — until next month, when my dad, Bud Kratz, will punch out for the last time at age 73.
It's hard for me to believe. I have so many memories of my dad at that store that I can't imagine him not working there.
That's not all there is to him, of course. In the community, he was treasurer of his church congregation for 33 years, and he's held every office in his Masonic Lodge.
And he's always there for our family. I still seek his advice on pretty much everything. He's just one of those people who seems to know what to say and when to say it — working retail for a few decades will do that for you, if you do it like you should.
He's funny. He's smart. He's energetic. And his priorities have always been just right.
As Ken says, "I admired him more the more I got to know him."
I feel the same way.
Dad, I really don't know how you've managed to work so hard and so well for our family, your employer and the community for as long as you have. You've set a standard that I can't imagine I'll ever match. But you'll always be the example I follow, whether at work, in the community or, most importantly, at home.
So, here's wishing you a happy, healthy and fun retirement. Of all the hardworking people I've known in my life, I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.
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