Variety is spice of Margaret's life: At 95, Luverne woman continues to run her own businessLUVERNE — Margaret Vegge is something of a curiosity at The Oaks senior complex where she lives. “They get a charge out of me,” she said about her fellow residents. “I’m the oldest one, and here I am walking out to my car to go to work, and they’re all sitting there drinking coffee.”
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — Margaret Vegge is something of a curiosity at The Oaks senior complex where she lives.
“They get a charge out of me,” she said about her fellow residents. “I’m the oldest one, and here I am walking out to my car to go to work, and they’re all sitting there drinking coffee.”
Most people her age have been retired for three decades, but Margaret still reports for work six days a week.
On Sunday, Margaret will celebrate 95 years, and she continues to run her business, Renfro Variety, in downtown Luverne.
Born in 1915 on a farm in Rock County, Margaret was the middle child in a family of two girls and three boys. She attended rural school for eight years and high school in Luverne, graduating in 1933.
“Then I had one year of teacher’s training, which was very good,” she explained. “I was a teacher for 13 years in rural schools.”
At the same time her sister was getting married, Margaret determined to continue her education at Mankato Teachers College, so she quit teaching for what she thought would be a temporary period of time.
“I wanted to go on to more schooling, so I wanted a part-time job,” she said about how she came to apply at the variety store. “I thought I could work part-time at Christmas.”
The part-time gig, however, became full-time when one of her co-workers quit.
“Mrs. Renfro was a professional artist, a beautiful person,” recalled Margaret about her former employer, admiration obvious in her voice. “She told me, ‘You work here now, and you can start school next September.’”
The year was 1948, and Margaret so enjoyed her new career that she never departed for Mankato. She stayed on to become the store’s manager, and later its owner in 1965.
“The Renfros had four stores at one time, with managers for each of them,” she explained. “They kept selling them off, one at a time.”
Just as the name implies, Renfro’s Variety Store carries a hodgepodge of items.
“We sell a lot of embroidery work, embroidery floss,” Margaret listed. “There are people who come from Worthington to buy hairnets. They’ll buy 12 at a time because they say they can’t find them anywhere else. I guess they need them when they work in restaurants, kitchens, nursing homes. They just can’t get them.
“We sell a lot of ladies’ handkerchiefs and men’s handkerchiefs,” she continued, looking around the store at her vast inventory. “Buster Brown anklets. Lots of batting for quilts. Rit dye. A lot of tablecloth, the plastic lacy stuff and flannel-backed tablecloth. We do sell some gifts — 25th and 50th anniversary gifts. People say you can’t find those. Greeting cards. Knee-high stockings. If they know we have them, they’ll come for them, because they don’t know where else to get them.”
The vast array of goods available at Renfro Variety inspired an advertising slogan: “If Margaret doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.”
While there was a time when every town had such a variety store — sometimes referred to as a Five and Dime — today such enterprises are few and far between. But Margaret perseveres because she believes it fills a niche in the community.
“Business has been slow, and so many people have gone out of business,” she lamented about the small-town business atmosphere. “But I feel like I have to stay here for a while to keep Luverne going. I have to hang in here for a while. ”
Margaret continues to keep up her daily work routine, but admits that she has begun to slow down. She doesn’t always go in first thing in the morning and doesn’t put in such long days, relying on her help to fill in the gaps. Still, at least two days a week she’s the only one minding the store. A recliner set up in the back of the store gives Margaret a place to sit down in comfort and take an occasional nap after lunch.
She’s thankful for good health that has helped her to stay active.
“In January, I had to go to the hospital with pneumonia,” she explained about her only recent health problem. “It was hard to stay home for a while.”
These days, her chief complaint is tiredness, which is to be expected at her advanced age.
“I told my doctor that I’m tired, and he said, ‘Me, too!’” she recounted. “I didn’t get any sympathy there. Now I get more tired in my legs. I guess something’s got to wear out a little bit, but as long as I’ve got my mind, I’m OK.”
Dedication to her store and community earned Margaret the Minnesota Outstanding Older Worker award in 1999, an accolade that is amazingly still valid 11 years later. Her store has become a tourist destination of sorts.
“A lot people come off the highway to see Renfro’s,” she said. “They see something about Margaret still running a store at her age and stop to see me.”
Never married and having outlasted all her siblings, Margaret dotes on and is doted upon by nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews who are throwing a 95th birthday party for her Sunday.
Over the years, she’s taken some “nice vacations,” traveling much of the United States and three trips to her family’s homeland in Norway.
“Now, the vacation is we go to Minneapolis,” she noted. “I have a niece up there.”
When she’s not working, Margaret can most often be found in her apartment at The Oaks, reading or watching religious programs or “Wheel of Fortune” on TV. She’s active in her church, Grace Lutheran, and retired from the church choir last year after a 78-year singing stint.
The store takes up most of her time, and she’s not quite ready to give up her role as Luverne’s senior businesswoman.
“I enjoy the people so much,” she reflected. “It’s a fine class of people, and it’s nice to have a conversation with the people who come in here.”
Reflecting on all she’s seen and experienced in her lifetime, Margaret still finds it difficult to comprehend that nine and a half decades have passed.
“Ninety-five,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I still don’t believe I’m still alive. Never did I dream. I remember when I was young I used to think people in their 80s were old. Then to get to 90 — man!”