These five women have a total of 216 years of combined experience working at the Minot Kmart. We introduce you to the women we now recognize as, “The Ladies of Kmart.”
“It was just a different atmosphere than it is now,” said Elaine Swanson, a 46-year employee.
Swanson knows a thing or two about how much Kmart changed over the last 50 years. She worked there for 46 of them, but she wasn’t the only one who spent most of their life working for the retailer. Four of her co-workers spent anywhere from 39 to 47 years there.
“We worked our butts off, but we did a lot of fun things and had a lot of laughs all along the time,” said Shirley Hartung, a 47-year employee.
But to these ladies, it was more than just work. They say being at Kmart was like being with their second family.
Many things changed over the years, from employees modeling the new clothes, to holiday parties and how the starting wage for some of them was only just over a dollar.
“I was told many times, ‘Get a different career.’ ‘Too chicken to leave.’ As you got older, you felt like, ‘Who would hire me?'” They said.
But the women say, it was the loyal customers who kept them returning to work, day after day, year after year.
“You met a lot of wonderful people that were very loyal and that part I’ll always treasure,” said Betty O’Connor, a 39-year employee.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t days they wanted to throw in the towel.
“Well the first years, I guess, I never even thought about quitting. And there was days, I don’t know, you just hung in there because of the Kmart family,” said Virginia Swensrud, a 45-year employee.
No matter how tough some of the workdays were, they say nothing prepared them for the very last day, which came just a couple of weeks ago.
“The last day was tough. It was like losing part of our family,” Swanson said.
“Yeah, I’d say it was a tough day for me,” said Vicki Rovenko, a 39-year employee.
“That was hard to watch it slowly disappear. So, the last day was tough because we nothing to come back to,” Hartung said.
“It was kind of heartbreaking. I mean, knowing you’re never coming back, there’s nothing to come back to. It was weird this morning getting up and not getting ready for work. So, it’s hard,” O’Connor said.
“I guess I found it heartbreaking knowing you’re walking out that door for the very last time and not going to be able to go back in to go to work,” Swensrud said.
One thing is for sure — the long years of work were well worth it.
The ladies say they plan to take a few months off before making a decision about retiring or finding something part-time.