“People really appreciate me. They said they miss my smile, while wearing face masks. Customers are nice,” she said. “It’s been fun.”
Just then as if on cue, someone approached her and said, “I’m going to miss seeing you here.”
Wuestefeld said she has no grand plans for retirement but is going to just take it easy after 46 years of getting up early to drive here from her West Harrison, Indiana home, which she shares with her husband, Gary. They have a son, Lance, who received a perfect attendance award in high school, something she is proud to have instilled in him.
“I’m going to relax, sleep and sit on my back porch and look at the wildlife. I want to sit on the porch in the summer and catch up on the magazines I have not had time to read and sip my tea until I see a deer come up,” she said.
Wuestefeld began working at the Oxford Kroger store in 1975, when it was located where the current TJ Maxx store is. She was hired by manager Tom Donges. She had put in an application at the Harrison Kroger store but a brother-in-law who worked for the company got wind of an opening at the Oxford store.
“I was cleaning out horse stalls and my dad said Kroger’s called. It was Malcolm Witt, the co-manager. He asked if I could come in that night for an interview. I told him I was cleaning horse stalls and he did not want to see me that night. I came in the next morning,” she said, with a smile remembering that time. “It was hard to get on (with Kroger’s) in those days. He liked that I grew up on a farm and knew the kind of work I would do.”
The winters of 1977 and 1978 brought extremely cold weather and plenty of snow, including a blizzard. She remembers driving home in that weather and making it as far as Mount Carmel, Indiana, where she came upon a driver who was stuck. She helped get that car moving again but couldn’t do the same with her own. The other driver took her home.
“My car sat for three days,” she said.
Not long after that, Wuestefeld learned the Brookville Kroger store was asking for help. Her hours here kept her working until midnight and the Brookville store closed at 10 p.m.
“I was young and liked to run so the two hours was good for me,” she said. That store closed, however, and she transferred to the Trenton store, which also had hours to midnight and was a longer drive from her home in Indiana.
“The Brookville store had 11 associates and three Marilyns. I was Marilyn 3. Marilyn Lanning was Marilyn 1 and Marilyn Rettig was Marilyn 2,” she said, laughing at the memory. “What stands out is of the number of people in the store, three were named Marilyn.”
The Oxford store about that time moved around the corner to Wells Mill Drive at McGuffey Avenue, so in August of 1983, she transferred back to Oxford to work as a cashier.
‘I worked in all the departments except the bakery and deli,” she said.
She worked for a time in the front office, which she called, “tough” and eventually moved back into the store in file maintenance, a position which required her to check signs, locations of items and check ads to be sure advertised items were accurate. The heaviest part of that job came on Sundays.
“I even played Santa and I had pictures taken with kids. Some of them would come and show me pictures of themselves with me from 25 years ago when they were five and now have kids who are five,” she said. “I watched a lot of babies grow up. They shopped with their families and now they are shoppers.”
The Oxford store moved again in 1998 to its present location taking over the store previously housing K-Mart. In 2010, a remodeling project expanded the store’s space.
She moved back into file maintenance and found the job had changed to include more responsibility and then her supervisor left, leaving her to do the job by herself until another person was hired.
Through her 46 years with Kroger’s Wuestefeld has seen many changes but the advent of scanned prices was one big one.
“What stands out is changes in prices. Prices used to be stamped on and that moved to scanning. Now, they are getting a new computer program. I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I got through it. I’m retiring,” she said. “Of course, COVID made things rough. Seeing empty shelves upset me. Product can’t be brought in. Customers can’t understand it. We just had to tell them we were out of something and could not get it.”
She said she played softball until she turned 36 and met a lot of people that way, as well as through the Kroger store. Her husband, Gary, recognized that fact.
“My husband says, ‘You know everybody.’ We were on a cruise once and I saw somebody I knew,” she said.
Her last day on the job saw many of those people stop by with well wishes.