End of an era: With Dick's retirement, Rickbeil retail legacy draws to a closeWORTHINGTON — For 91 years — since 1920 — a member of the Rickbeil family has been in business in downtown Worthington. That retail legacy will end later this month, when third-generation retailer Richard “Dick” Rickbeil retires as manager of Karl’s TV & Appliance.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — For 91 years — since 1920 — a member of the Rickbeil family has been in business in downtown Worthington. That retail legacy will end later this month, when third-generation retailer Richard “Dick” Rickbeil retires as manager of Karl’s TV & Appliance.
It was Dick’s grandfather, Frederick Rickbeil, who moved his family to Worthington in 1920 to become the proprietor of a hardware store.
“Grandpa started in business in Loma, N.D., in 1906, and then they moved to Cando, N.D.,” detailed Dick. “In 1920, he came to Worthington and started with the hardware store on Main Street. The store was destroyed by fire in 1924, and they rebuilt it and the Masonic Temple and went back in there.”
Dick’s dad, Hardy, left his studies at the University of Minnesota when his father became ill and eventually took over the family business. He married his high school classmate, Bethel Knapp, in 1931, and they had two children, Dianne and Dick.
Under Hardy’s leadership, the business expanded into a multi-store enterprise. At one time, the Rickbeil retail empire included a hardware store on one side of 10th Street, appliance store on the other, furniture store on Third Avenue, marine store on Second Avenue and warehouse and service facilities.
“We used to advertise that we sold the largest selection of products for the home, because that encompassed everything that we did,” Dick recalled.
As a lad, Dick helped out in the store, and he always intended to join the family venture, pursuing a degree in business from Hamline University.
“I worked in the summers and after school some,” he said. “I always had that in mind. I came home from college in 1961 and went to work. … I spent time in all the stores, although to begin with I concentrated on the hardware store, but at various times I’d be in one of the other stores, especially if one of the employees was gone or something, to fill in.”
Sometime after he returned from college, Dick made the acquaintance of Judy Wee.
“She’d moved to Worthington with her family from Lakefield,” Dick said. “She worked as a waitress at Duffy’s Café, which was next to the hardware store, in the summertime, and I happened to notice her there. She went to Concordia (College in Moorhead), and we got married a month after she graduated. She taught in Fulda for two years.”
Dick and Judy’s family expanded about every year and a half, resulting in seven children and now 12 grandchildren with one on the way. The Rickbeil clan — all married — either settled elsewhere in Minnesota or moved westward: Martha (Judd) Sather lives in Stillwater and is currently a stay-at-home mom, although she will likely return to teaching in the near future; Mark (Stephanie) is a firefighter in Billings, Mont.; Emily (Eric) Turney is a teacher in Big Bear City, Calif.; Paul (Emilee) is a teacher in Kiowa, Colo.; Tom (Melissa) is employed in construction in the Red Lodge, Mont., area; Dan (Angie) lives in Mankato, where he is the equipment manager at Minnesota State University: and Anne (Chad) Pavlick is an assistant ski patrol director in Red Lodge.
As the retail climate in Worthington changed, Rickbeils’ gradually consolidated its operations.
“In 1987, when we closed the hardware store, we moved the service department into that building,” Dick detailed. “Then I moved over into the appliance store and stayed there for the rest of history. Dad had by that time retired. He worked until he was 72. Now I’m 72, and I’ve enjoyed every moment.”
In 1988, the business was sold to Karl’s TV & Appliance, headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I was fortunate enough to be employed by them from the beginning,” noted Dick, who became manager of the Worthington Karl’s. “Elmer Karl and I have been friends for many years. We belonged to the same buying group and had a great relationship.
“We felt so strongly that if we were going to sell this business, there needed to be some sort of continuation of business that can sell these products,” Dick explained further. “Karl’s was an organization that was a good fit. They emphasize service, as we did, and carry a wide variety of products.”
While the transition from owner to manager might have been strange for Dick, he embraced the new role to the best of his ability.
“It’s a full-time thing to be in business, whether you’re the owner or the manager of someone else’s company,” he reflected. “It was probably more demanding since I sold the business. Time-wise, it seemed like I had more time to be involved in community things before I sold the business. At one time or another, I was probably on most boards, committees or whatever it might be in the community, following in the family tradition of community involvement.”
Community involvement was indeed a legacy passed on from Hardy, who made a point of staying involved throughout his life.
“He had a hobby, and it was people,” reflected Dick about his father. “Anything he could gather and save about somebody, he’d save it, and it gave him ammunition, so that if he ran into somebody on the street or somewhere, he had something to talk to them about.”
Dick also credits wife Judy for being supportive throughout his career in business and keeping the home fires burning.
“She always let me do what I needed to do in business; she understood it was a commitment,” Dick said. “And I made time to go to hockey and ball games. Five of our kids played hockey at one time, all on different teams. And there was no school hockey, so it was all on weekends. Judy would go one way, and I’d go the other way, and between Saturday and Sunday we might see five games — or more, if we went to a tournament.”
The pieces recently fell into place for Dick and Judy to contemplate retirement. Their familial ties to the community ended with the death of Judy’s father, Orville Wee, in 2009, and then Hardy Rickbeil died at age 101 in May 2010. A buyer was found for their rural Worthington home, which had been on the market for several years, and they’ve been “house sitting” for some local snowbirds since January, while their household goods are stored in a warehouse.
Instead of moving closer to any of their children, the Rickbeils have chosen to forge their own path to a new locale.
“One of the things that always comes up if you move where your kids are, you never know if they’re going to stay there,” Dick said. “And they’ve said they’ll come see us.”
Dick’s last day at Karl’s has been set for March 24, and they will close on a new home in the woods of northern Minnesota — Pequot Lakes — on the following day.
“I made a comment to Elmer Karl on e-mail the other day: If you got up on Monday morning and were excited to go to work, than you were in the right place, and that’s the way I feel now about retirement,” Dick related.
Once they’ve gotten settled, Dick expects to find “something to do,” and Judy, an accomplished church organist and music teacher, will find avenues there for her talents.
“I’m really excited about where we’re going to live,” said Dick. “It’s what we’ve been looking for. We’ve found a place we’ll be comfortable in, and the grand piano fits, and it has hardwood floors so the grand piano will sound good. And there’s a big open area where our family of 23 can all be together.”
While they may no longer have a house in Worthington, Dick and Judy will always have a soft spot in their hearts for the community that supported their family business for many years and where they raised their children.
“You don’t realize it until you stop and think about it, but so many people walk in the door that I know,” Dick said. “We’re going to a place where we don’t know people. I guess we’ll have to get acquainted. And we hope we can keep up our friendships with people from Worthington, and anytime anybody is in our area, we invite them to stick their head in and say hello.”