Man celebrates 80 years working at market in Boelus

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 10:45 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 11:52 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - After decades of working at the same business, Gene Whitefoot still enjoys getting up each morning, and going to work at the Whitefoot Market.

Gene is 90 years of age, and will be 91 in March. It turns out that he’s been working at the same business since the age of 10. “I’ve been here (at the local grocery store) for 80 years.” Gene said. “February the 8th I started for my uncle Andy Jensen. I started sweeping the floor, burning the trash, and then we had a produce route.”

Now, Gene owns the store. His son Wayne is in line to take over someday. Wayne started here much like his dad did. “I actually started in this store when I was 10 years old, too,” Wayne said. “There are a lot of memories here.”

Gene says much has changed over the years. “The store started in Boelus in 1896,” Gene said. “My uncle’s dad had it. He lived in Dannebrog, which is about 11 miles away. He would drive back and forth everyday in a horse and buggy. It was across the street for a while. In 1936, they moved over here, and it’s been here ever since. In the days when I first started, these were called ‘general merchandise’ stores. They handled just about everything. I always said, ‘We handled everything but used cars and baby chicks’. We never had either one of them. But we had shoes, paint, and feed.”

Now, the store serves the local community with groceries. “We have some real dedicated people that have stayed with us forever,” Gene said. “We thank every one of them. They keep it going.”

Gene’s son Wayne even does a brisk catering business out of the store. But, the grocery store isn’t just a place for groceries. It’s also a place where people get together and meet over coffee every afternoon. Rosemary Rasmussen has been friends with Gene for 20 years. She enjoys being a part of the afternoon coffee time. “Usually, it’s just locals visiting,” Rosemary said. “Everybody likes to talk about their families, and it’s just one big happy family that gets together to enjoy each other.”

Along with the coffee talk, a large baseball bat propped up in the corner always generates conversation as well. “That was made by our postmaster in town in 1930,” Gene said. “It was a mascot for a ball team. Boelus has always been a pretty big baseball town. They laid this bat with the regular bats to get the other team to think we had someone big enough to swing it. It was just kind of a fun thing.” Gene says the names of three uncles and his dad are on the bat, which is made from an old electric pole. With Gene on duty, the town continues to thrive. “We are lucky in Boelus,” Gene said. “We have a good bank, and we have a good steakhouse.”

As far as the concept of working at one place for 80 years, Gene never really gave it a second thought. “I’ve enjoyed working here, and I’ve enjoyed the town,” Gene said. “I’m dedicated to the town. I’ve been on the city council since 1952. I’m still on it, and I’m still the city clerk. But, I have a lot of help with the computers. I’m a little short on the computer knowledge.”

But one thing Gene will never be “short on”, is his dedication to the community. It’s a community that holds him in high regard. “I open up the store at 7:30 a.m. every morning, and until 6 p.m. I’m here,” Gene said. “I really look forward to it. It’s been my life.”

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