There was laughter, and shared memories. After 21 years with the same company, and many of the same associates, saying goodbye wasn't easy for Joel Petersen.
Last Friday Petersen retired from WalMart.
It was the fall of 1991 when WalMart's #1417 first opened in Prescott. The store was technically located on the Yavapai Indian Reservation, because the City of Prescott wouldn't agree on a location within the city limits. Later a Supercenter was built, and WalMart was officially within the boundaries of the city. A couple of years later, and a second WalMart was built on the other side of Prescott. Then, a Sam's Club went up in Prescott Valley.
Petersen was the very first store manager at WalMart #1417. Except, he chose not to be titled, "Manager". He was Coach Joel to everyone he worked with. And that philosophy was intertwined throughout the store - instead of Assistant Managers, there were Assistant Coaches. Instead of employees, there were associates. Coach Joel didn't ever ask anyone to do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself. Even when it came to the WalMart cheer and the "squiggly" wiggle.
Although he believed firmly in "coaching" rather than "managing", Petersen was adamant regarding a few things: The store had to be clean. Customers were to be treated with the utmost of courtesy. And if you had an idea that would make #1417 a better place, he wanted to hear it.
If you ask Petersen about his memories, you won't hear about the million dollar sales days, or the awards or bonuses. No, Petersen talks about the people he worked with.
Friday, Petersen was determined that he wouldn't cry when he said his goodbyes. He almost made it. He smiled a lot, and told a few stories "...not for publication, Lynne LaMaster, this is family talk!" he said with a grin. He opened the gifts, admired the cake and shook a lot of hands.
But, then Norma came to say good bye. Norma was one of the original associates from opening day in 1991. She's been with the store ever since, she's usually in the Express Checkstand. She has white hair and a cheery personality. She's a favorite amongst the other associates because she is kindly and unflappable.
"I don't want him to go," Norma said in a choked up voice, with tears in her eyes. Coach Joel reached out and hugged her, and the tears he had so gallantly held back began to form in his eyes. "Look at that. I almost made it," he said ruefully. "Then Norma had to start crying, and it got to me."
"He's the best manager I ever had," said a former employee who had stopped in just to say goodbye.
"That's why I chose to work here," replied one of the Assistant Coaches.
Petersen's nose was red, his eyes were teary, and his smile was a little crooked. He laughed at himself, regrouped, and then continued with his goodbyes.
After all, he'd been coaching this team for 21 years. He wasn't going to let them down now.
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