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Kruse reflects on long JCPenney career

WORTHINGTON — When JCPenney closed its doors in Worthington a few weeks ago, Terese Kruse closed the door on more than 30 years of her life.

“I had no relief when I heard the store was closing, just sadness,” said Kruse. “We were all shocked when it was announced. Our store was doing well. We were making money.”

In spite of the store’s long-term success — the years spent downtown in Worthington and the years out at the mall — the decision to close was final.

“We found out later that it was because of the location itself,” Kruse admitted. “The owner of the mall wouldn’t do the things that needed to be done.”

“I was just glad that we were the only store to close in Minnesota — glad that Minnesota wasn’t hit worse,” she said.

That tendency to look on the bright side is characteristic of Kruse, as evidenced by her ready laugh and optimistic outlook.

“We as a team did everything we could to keep our store open,” she said. “we did our part, and that was good to know.”

The team of 25 co-workers — five or six full-time and the rest part-time — had become close friends over the years.

“I feel like I lost a support group,” Kruse laughed. “I am thankful for social media to be able to keep in touch with them. They are amazing people.”

For almost 29 years Kruse worked as a salesperson with those “amazing people” in Worthington, though she began her JCPenney career in South Dakota as a college graduate and newlywed looking for a part-time job.

“My degree was in retail and I always liked the store arena,” she explained. “We were in Brookings, and I looked for a job at JCPenney because I knew it was a decent store, and they hired me for seasonal work. Then we moved to Madison, and I enjoyed what I was doing so I stuck with it. I still enjoyed it when we moved here.”

Kruse never stopped enjoying it.

“I loved selling clothes and especially jewelry because of the challenge involved to find the right thing,” she said. “It was always a happy occasion when we could find just what the customer needed.”

Finding exactly what the customer needed wasn’t always easy, nor was it always for a fun or pleasant reason. But no matter the purpose, Kruse always felt deep satisfaction when she could serve her customer’s needs and help them through a difficult time.

“People would come in for funerals, needing suits and dresses,” Kruse said. “I always got a sense of really helping someone in those situations, and people appreciated it. They wanted to get in and out quickly. It was very much a helping job.”

Kruse also didn’t mind helping out particularly challenging customers, and she saw each person as an opportunity for kindness.

“I try very hard during the day if someone is not smiling to make them smile. It will make my life better and hopefully make their life better, too,” Kruse explained. “We had a very minor percentage of difficult customers. The majority were great. They were people we got to know. They would talk to us, tell us about their families. I would try to remember to ask them about their family members the next time I saw them.

“I miss my customers terribly and the people I worked with,” she continued. “I miss being around that many people every day. I’m an extrovert, but I didn’t use to be. I had a manager who taught me that to sell you need to be able to bring out in the customer what you need to know. I was scared to death at first, but they aren’t going to hate you. At the very least, my customers became my acquaintances and many became my friends.”

Kruse saw that relational aspect of her job as vital to small-town stores. She was not new to small-town life when she moved to this area in 1985. Raised on a farm in Royal, Iowa, she fit in well in Fulda, where she and husband Darwin settled down to raise their children as well as foster children over the years.

If there is one good thing about the store’s closure, it is that Kruse now has more time for their one grandchild, Landon.

“Landon is 13 months old, and now I’m able to help out so much more with him. It’s been wonderful,” Kruse enthused. “I love to cook, and I’ve been able to do more of that. I baked three loaves of banana bread this morning and took it over to the kids. I have other priorities now.”

In addition to playing with her grandson, Kruse’s priorities now include several volunteering opportunities. She also admitted finding it awfully nice to be able to sleep in a little more in the mornings.

One thing Kruse has not done since the store closed, she said, is wallow in self-pity or waste time hollering at God.

“I have a hope through this whole thing,” Kruse said. “The thing that has been my rock has been my faith, because that never changes. This hasn’t ruined my life. I know that He has a plan — He just hasn’t told me what it is yet. I don’t know that I would have ever quit my job if the store hadn’t closed. I would have probably been there until I retired.

“It’s been very good for me as a person and for my faith. I have a peace that I cannot explain,” Kruse elaborated. “I can’t tell you why, but I know that He has it under control. If the right thing comes up, I will probably go back to part-time work. For now, I’m enjoying my time.”

JCPenney will never be completely out of Kruse’s heart or mind.

“I have a curio cabinet with JCPenney memorabilia,” Kruse revealed. “Stuff from their 100th anniversary, etc. It holds 30 years of memories.”