At 96, Vegge to retire; close Renfro VarietyLUVERNE — Margaret Vegge could very well be Minnesota’s oldest businesswoman.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — Margaret Vegge could very well be Minnesota’s oldest businesswoman.
She’s been the familiar face behind the counter at Renfro Variety in downtown Luverne for 64 years, falling into the career after a 13-year stint as a country school teacher at Ash Creek. If you’re trying to do the math, add in another 19 growing-up years and you come up with 96.
Actually, Vegge will be 97 this October. The impending birthday was set as a goal for her retirement, but she’s now moved up the date. Come Aug. 31, the iconic variety store just down the street from the Historic Palace Theatre will close, and with it, the experience of a small-town five-and-dime will cease for future generations of shoppers.
Vegge isn’t so sure she’ll have enough items left in stock to make it through the end of August. She started discounting merchandise in June, and with the 50th annual Hot Dog Nite in Luverne tonight, she’s celebrating by moving the sale to 50 percent off all remaining items — 75 percent off seasonal.
“I thought it was time I could retire now — at my age,” said Vegge, taking a break from work by sitting in a cushioned chair at the back of the store Tuesday afternoon.
She isn’t quite sure how she’ll handle retirement — it’s a question she has posed to numerous retired shoppers, many of whom are more than 20 years younger than her.
“I’ll sleep later in the morning,” she said with a laugh. “Take a little nap after lunch. The afternoons, I think, will be the longest.”
Vegge has lived in an apartment for some time now, but she still has “boxes of stuff” to look through — items that came from the house she once called home. There are also activities in her apartment complex at The Oaks, including Bingo and Bible Study.
“I could get involved in different things,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest thing she will miss in retirement is visiting with all of the customers who have become her friends over the years.
Anyone who walks into Renfro Variety gets a smile and a greeting from Vegge — something she says is a Norwegian trait.
“My folks were always that way,” she said. “It was just part of our heritage.”
Vegge’s start in the retail world began in 1948 when, after 13 years of teaching, she had decided to seek further education at Mankato Teacher’s College. She was hired by Don and Mary Renfro as a store clerk that December so she could earn some money for college. When another store clerk got married after Christmas, she was asked to stay on.
“I was then going to start school that next September and I never did,” she said. “I’ve lived here in Rock County all my life.”
Eventually, Vegge was named manager of Renfro Variety. She later purchased it in 1965, and attributes her success to the community, its residents and the “good, reliable, dedicated help” she’s had over the years.
“I’ve been fortunate to have good health so I could keep on working,” she said.
In the last year, Vegge was hospitalized for 10 days with pneumonia, and “it wasn’t that long and I could get in the car and come down (to the store),” she admitted.
“Being a single person, I’ve had good help from my nieces and nephews,” Vegge said, adding that they have helped in recent weeks to clear out the basement and change displays in the store.
Currently, there’s a display in the store front featuring a number of items — now considered antiques — once used or offered for sale in the store.
“People always say, ‘If Margaret doesn’t have it, they didn’t need it,’” she said with a smile. “Now, they come in and say they’ll sure miss Renfro’s and miss me.
“Luverne has been a nice town and I’ve tried to promote the downtown businesses,” said Vegge, who was honored as Minnesota’s Outstanding Older Worker in 1999 — a title that took her to Washington, D.C., for recognition.
A customer appreciation event is planned at Renfro Variety in early August, but people are encouraged to stop by and greet her tonight during her 50th and final Hot Dog Nite as a business owner.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.