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Ken and Zuby Jansen ‘bloom where they are planted’

Zuby and Ken Jansen stand among the many bolts of fabric inside their business, Crafty Corner Quilt and Sewing Shoppe, in Worthington. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)1 / 3
Zuby and Ken Jansen have filled their store with quilting displays made by their employees. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)2 / 3
Zuby and Ken Jansen. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — To hear Ken and Zuby Jansen talk about the days before they married, it’s hard to know whose story to believe.

“It was love at first sight,” assures Ken.

“No,” chimed in Zuby.

She met him in the summer of 1957 while staying with her grandmother in Worthington. She was to return to Minnesota Bible College for her senior year and a degree in Christian Education and youth work. Ken worked for his dad at Shorty’s Texaco.

The two met at a church party.

Actually, he’d spotted her earlier in church.

“She was a beautiful young lady so I thought I needed to get acquainted with her,” said Ken.

Zuby responded with a roll of her eyes.

After her graduation, however, an intervention to keep the two apart resulted in Zuby’s move to Clovis, N.M., to work as a youth director and church secretary.

“I thought I would test this love thing and see how strong it was,” Zuby said. She worked in Clovis for less than a year before becoming too sick to work.

“Lovesick,” Ken quipped.

“No it wasn’t,” replied an exasperated Zuby.

Her sickness drained her of energy and landed her in a Clovis hospital. When she was discharged, Ken — by then her beau of more than a year — was there to drive her back to Worthington to recover. Though she eventually returned to Clovis, she didn’t have the stamina for the busy church schedule and had to resign.

That’s when she moved to Worthington to stay. It wasn’t long before the two were planning a wedding — that was in 1959.

On a loan and a prayer

Three years prior — in 1956 — Ken and his brother purchased Shorty’s Texaco from their father. Ken, who’d spent four years in the Air Force, was ready to settle in Worthington. The brothers shared ownership for several years, with Ken eventually taking it over.

After the success of adding Yamaha motorcycles to the business in the 1960s, Ken purchased an existing building on Worthington’s Oxford Street and opened Worthington Sports Center.

Meanwhile, Zuby was a stay-at-home mom, caring for the couple’s two daughters — and a son who arrived 12 years after the youngest girl. Zuby had done some work from home during those years, and did some sewing, though it was making clothing, not quilts.

By the time their son was 7 or 8, he wanted to be with his dad at the sports center.

“I was really at loose ends,” recalled Zuby, who soon decided to try her hand at business. She secured a $5,000 loan and opened a consignment shop on Oxford Street in 1982. Its location on a corner lot led to the name Crafty Corner.

The shop carried a variety of handcrafted items and consigned articles, including ceramics and quilted items. The consigned quilt pieces renewed Zuby’s interest in quilting. The proud owner of an unusual quilt made by her great-grandmother, Zuby wanted to delve into the quilting business.

Fabric was added to the shop, and Zuby then secured a dealership with Bernina in 1982 to begin selling the well-known brand of sewing machines.

“From then on, we got too large and had to move out of the little house,” Zuby said. That’s when the shop moved to its present Oxford Street location, adjacent to Worthington Chiropractic Clinic. Shortly after the move, the business name changed to Crafty Corner Quilt & Sewing Shoppe.

“We were able to grow (the quilt shop) because we didn’t have to live off of it,” said Zuby, referring to the success of the sports center. Yet, she was seeing her own success — success that fueled the need for more space in the building she was in.

“I never thought of myself as a businesswoman. I started the whole thing because I wanted to have (a Bernina),” she added.

In 1991, when Ken sold Worthington Sports Center, he went from managing a motorcycle shop to working alongside his wife amid bolts of colorful fabrics and a wall of sewing machines.

There was a bit of a learning curve.

Like the time Ken was left in the store alone and sold a shirt that was supposed to be a display model. He garnered $35.

“I thought I did good,” he said with a smile.

Ken manages all of the sewing machine repairs, making sure they get done and shipped back to their owners in reasonable time. He also pays the bills, does the advertising and oversees the shop’s vacuum cleaner sales.

“Kenny is a seller of merchandise,” said Zuby. “If it’s around, he wants to sell it.”

Ken is also the one to ask about inventory. Without missing a beat, he said they have about 9,000 bolts of fabric on their sales floor.

The fabric and related inventory, as well as the Bernina dealership, has made Crafty Corner a destination for quilters. It has long been a part of regional shop-hops, hosts numerous busloads of quilters each year and pulls in a lot of travelers from nearby Interstate 90.

“We’ve established a good reputation as being an honest place to send your Bernina machine,” said Ken, noting recent machines received from Bernina owners in North Carolina and Florida, and threads mailed to customers as far away as Holland and Norway.

“It’s been a very good business,” Zuby added. Most of her time is spent working on the store’s website. They have a full-time manager and five part-time employees.

With online competitors like Amazon trying to kill small business, the Jansens know they have a leg up on online retailers — good customer service. Still, they’d like to have a more level playing field to compete and hope one day that online businesses will be required to charge sales tax to its customers.

Quilting is a billion dollar industry, Ken said, and if it wasn’t for quilters, there wouldn’t be the variety in sewing machines that exists today.

“Now, embroidery is so big,” said Zuby, adding that the shop offers software classes to teach Bernina owners how to use some of the technology available on their machines.

“We have a classroom and we are constantly giving classes or helping people on a one-to-one (basis),” she said. “It’s not because the sewing machines are hard to use; there are so many possibilities with sewing machines now.”

Travels, missions and service

Despite their busy years in business, the Jansens have found time to get away. Some trips were work-related, like their multiple visits to Bernina’s home base in Switzerland. They also earned incentive trips offered by Bernina to Hong Kong and China.

The couple has also participated in mission trips, going once to Austria and taking numerous trips to the Dominican Republic.

“We’ve been quite involved in missions with our church,” said Ken, adding that they’ve traveled to the Dominican Republic 18 times to do mission work, taking most of their eight grandchildren with them at one time or another over the years.

“The missions have been very important work,” said Zuby. “They’re happy people, willing to share what little they have.”

The Jansens also do their part to help the local community. Each serves on the Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs committee, and have held roles at different times on the Chamber’s board of directors. Ken served on the board of Worthington Christian Church for nearly 50 years, and is a past member of both the city and county planning and zoning commissions. Meanwhile, Zuby serves on the Community Appearance committee and is a Chamber Ambassador. She is a past recipient of the Athena award, which recognizes women in business.

Both are members of Worthington Noon Kiwanis and are excited about some of the projects of that group, including a splash pad and harmony park for the community.

“If your community is strong, your business is going to prosper also,” Zuby said. “If we don’t all work together, we can’t make it happen.”

The Jansens, counting Ken’s first job working with his dad at Shorty’s Texaco, have had an Oxford Street business presence for 66 years. They are proud of their service to the community.

“You just kind of bloom where you’re planted,” said Ken.

The couple has no plans to retire at this point, saying they enjoy meeting all of the people that visit their quilt shop and are happy to have something to keep them busy.

“We’ll do it as long as God gives us the ability to do it,” Zuby said. “When we step down, there will be somebody to pick it up — it’s a very good business. It’s a strong shop, and I have no doubt that it will continue.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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