Mary Sommerfield misses her full-time job as a greeter at Walmart, but she is having so much fun at Homestead of Leavenworth assisted living where she has lived for about a year, she doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on memories of her 32 years at the business.
Mary Sommerfield misses her full-time job as a greeter at Walmart, but she is having so much fun at Homestead of Leavenworth assisted living where she has lived for about a year, she doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on memories of her 32 years at the business.
Working at the retail giant was her first — and only job, and she never grew tired of it.
She stopped working at age 91 and has embraced the next chapter of her life at Homestead, but misses the associates and customers she saw regularly and befriended at Walmart.
Many customers still ask about Mary.
“I had some customers who regularly came in just to see me,” she said.
“I loved the customers and staff,” says Mary. “People have asked me if Walmart made me quit because of my age, but they never would have done that. It was my choice.”
Mary lost her husband, Robert Sommerfield, who taught math at Leavenworth High School for many years, 11 years ago, and all three of her children have passed away. The routine of working had helped her tremendously with coping. “Working gave me a sense of purpose and it kept me moving,” says Mary.
Her determination to keep working proved to be a gift to her co-workers also. “The associates really enjoyed working with Mary,” says Ashley Henning, co-manager at Walmart. “She worked in a lot of different departments and everyone really liked her. As a greeter, she would talk to everyone who came in. She loved seeing all the people. Working gave her a purpose each day to get out and do something.”
Ashley believes that having associates of all ages at Walmart is good for everybody. "It goes both ways," says Ashley. "The older generation has lots of experience and the younger generation has tech skills that they can share."
When asked if she would like to be a greeter at Walmart when she is 91, Ashley, who is 31, said she's not sure at this point in her life, but she would definitely like to stay employed with Walmart.
Mary initially began working at the company to keep busy. She says she never liked to sit around and watch television and she is always looking for something to do.
When Mary had to stop driving at 89, Mary Wise, claims supervisor at Walmart and other associates would pick her up and take her home. “A lot of the associates volunteered to drive her to and from work,” says Henning. “They wanted to help. We’re a family at Walmart.”
"Mary enjoyed talking to the customers," says Wise. "Everyone was sad to see her go but understood that due to bad weather and her age she decided to retire. Mary was always busy and enjoyed what she did. And she was good at what she did. Customers would bring her food or fresh things from their gardens. On her birthday, if they knew when it was, they would bring flowers for her. Some customers asked about her or asked if Walmart made her retire. But she made the decision to retire, not Walmart. A lot of the customers knew her from her husband who was a teacher at Leavenworth High School. So some of his students would come in and talk to her. Many people would often stop and chat with her."
Mary says she feels very at home at the assisted living facility and the wide range of activities and new friends at Homestead keep her very active. "It's very clean and good fun and there is no time to get bored," says Mary. She is a big believer in exercise and works out three times a week at Homestead.
Although she has six rods in her back due to a broken tailbone after she tripped and fell, she emphasizes that this injury won't stop her. "Keep moving, if you don't move it you will lose it," says Mary.
Her husband had privately taken care of all the arrangements for Mary to live at Homestead so that after he was gone and when she felt she would need assistance she would have a place to live with people to help her when she needed it. "I didn't know about any of it," says Mary. "He always took good care of me."
She has two grandchildren and five great-grandkids, but none live locally. Her grandson came and helped her with the move to Homestead.
Henning said the thing she misses most every day since Mary has been gone is her smile.
And while Mary has embraced retirement at 91, part of her still misses the '9 to 5' of her job, fellow associates and customers.
"I just want to thank all the wonderful people at Walmart and Homestead," says Mary.