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Happily working well into retirement

By Rachel Barduson

Ivy (83): "I have to be doing something... I have to be needed."

Ivy Christianson was 13 years old when she secured her first employment. That was 70 years ago. And at age 83, she has no intention of slowing down or of letting any setbacks stop her. She’s a living testimony to perseverance and gumption.

“Sarcastic humor gets me through a lot. I like to say it like it is,” she said.

At age 83, Iberdeen “Ivy” Christianson continues to show up for work each day with a smile on her face. Christianson works as a cashier and says she has no interest is slowing down. Photo by Rachel Barduson

Ivy is a cashier at Elden’s Fresh Foods. Her employer, Elliot Christensen, spoke her praises, “Ivy is the most dependable and dedicated person I know. You can always count on her, she’s amazing. Nothing stops her from showing up for her shift. She has that work ethic that is to be greatly admired. What a thrill for you to get to know her. People look for her and she knows many customers on a first-name basis.” Ivy has been a steady force at the grocery store for more than 20 years, always as a cashier.

Born in Parker's Prairie, “In the hospital...not at home like most babies were back in those days. The doctor told my mother that it was going to be a big baby so she had better get to the hospital. I was more than 10 pounds. Guess the doctor was right,” Ivy said. “My real name is Iberdeen. I have no idea where they came up with that one, but I go by Ivy.”

Ivy grew up in Miltona. The work ethic that Ivy displays to this day started with her first job at 13 in the hardware store in Miltona. “There were many days where I was alone, with all the responsibilities that went with it, from the very start. The store was owned by a woman, which was unusual back in the day, and many times she had other things to take care of in addition to owning the store.”

After Ivy graduated from Alexandria’s Central High School in 1957, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher. “Back then we had what was called Normal Teacher’s Training. It was in Staples, so I went there for a year. From there I went on to St. Cloud State. It took me 13 years to graduate, what with working and night school and summer school, but I did it,” she explained. And when a friend suggested they go on to get their Masters Degree in Education, well, Ivy did that too.

Ivy taught at Carlos Elementary School for 30 years, having secured the job while she and her husband Bob and their first daughter Renee, lived in St. Paul. “I was offered the job and I told them I was expecting another baby that August (daughter Janine), and they said they would hold the job for me. I accepted the job and we moved back to Miltona. Our son Robert came along a few years after that.”

After 30 years in education, uninterrupted, the unthinkable happened. She was literally stopped in her tracks. Back in 1996, one week before school was scheduled to begin, Ivy had a brain aneurysm. “I have absolutely no memory of any of it.” She was in intensive care for more than five weeks.

That worst moment of her life led to what Ivy explains as a dark time. Changes in her life that she could not manage, and the worst part...depression. “It was a terrible feeling. I missed the kids. I was so angry at God at first. I was angry that I couldn’t teach anymore,” she said. “At its worst, I prayed to God that I am here to do more for you if you want, otherwise the devil gets me. God answered and said He had more for me to do. That turned it all around. I was still angry that the aneurysm had happened, but I wasn’t angry at God anymore. He said I was still needed. And I need to be needed...and things began to fall into place. I use humor a lot in order to get on with things, but when I prayed that the devil would get me, I was serious.”

And thus began a new chapter in Ivy’s life after teaching. But before fast forwarding to the “life after teaching” part, let’s take a look at the before teaching began chapter. Ivy graduated from high school in 1957. She met her husband Bob at a dance, he enlisted in the Army, and the two married after he returned. She was 20 years old when they married, and he was 25. Sixty-three years later, their love abounds, and they still watch out for one another.

Employment will always be important to Ivy because as she explained, “I have to be doing something, and like I said, I have to be needed. After the brain aneurysm, I couldn’t do certain I had to find other things. What that life changing event did was help me understand that I can learn how to enjoy things again, like serving the Lord.”

Ivy also plays the organ for Zion Lutheran Church near Parkers Prairie, and for Esther Lutheran in Miltona.

Ivy explained it’s the little things that continue to count. “A little girl was with her mommy in the checkout line the other day. She saw my name tag and asked me if my name is Ivy, and I said yes. The little girl said her name was Ivy too. And then, it turns out, we have the same last name. You better believe that this little girl will be getting a birthday card in the mail from me,” Ivy said, as she was waving at another customer three cashier lines down when someone called out her name. It’s the little things that give Ivy daily messages that she’s doing exactly what the good Lord has guided her to do.

Ivy has been married for 63 years. She taught for 30, and it has been 26 years since her aneurysm. She had a few years with odd jobs, including a school bus driver, and now has been at Elden’s for 20 years.

And through all of that, Ivy continues to light up the room with her humor, love of people, and speak of her faith in God. Once you meet Ivy in the checkout line you too will be on a first-name basis. Because, that’s how it works with Ivy.

Evelyn (90): ‘At the end of the day it’s all about having happy customers’

It could be said that Evelyn Johnson knows the enjoyment of women’s retail better than anyone else in the Alexandria area. And, because of that enjoyment, and the rewards she gains from it, she has no plans to retire.

Evelyn, age 90, is employed at Bon Jos Women’s Apparel and Tanning on Broadway in Alexandria. She has had quite a journey along the way, and said it’s always, “All in God’s hands.”

At age 90, Evelyn Johnson continues to work about 10-15 hours a week at Bon Jos in Alexandria. When she isn’t working, she enjoys playing cards, exercising, and volunteering. Photo by Rachel Barduson

Born in North Dakota, Evelyn Rossum and family moved to Evansville when she was four years old. The family of 12 kids (Evelyn was number 11) moved to the Kensington area when Evelyn was in the sixth grade. She graduated from Kensington High School in 1950 and married Dale Johnson soon after. As the couple started their life on the Johnson Family Grain Farm, Evelyn began and continued her first career as a farmer’s wife and homemaker. Dale and Evelyn became parents to four boys and “I loved being a stay-at-home-mom. I helped Dale on the farm and I loved working on the farm. That’s how it was, and I am so grateful I was able to have that,” she said. Evelyn’s sons included Randy, who passed away in 2020, Jerry of Minneapolis, Dwight of Pine Mountain, GA., and Tony of Alexandria. Evelyn has seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and one on the way. Dale passed away in 2002.

While still farming, Evelyn began working at Quinco Press in Lowry in 1975.

“This was where they printed all of the newspapers at the time, including the Lakeland Shopper. It was always interesting,” Evelyn explained. She worked there until 1985 when Evelyn found herself with an opportunity to start working in women’s fashion retail, and the rest is, quite frankly, history.

Those who are familiar with some of the women’s retail stores in Alexandria will remember Stevenson’s. Evelyn worked at the Stevenson’s location at the Viking Plaza Mall and continued there until it closed in 1994. “I was just shopping for myself at Stevenson’s and I was asked if I wanted to work there; that’s how it all started,” Evelyn explained. “And so, I began, and later became Assistant Manager. And yes, I have seen many changes in the world of women’s fashion trends since that very first job at Stevenson’s.”

Dale and Evelyn sold their farm near Kensington in 1990 during her employment with Stevenson’s, and moved to Alexandria. When they moved to Alexandria, the couple managed 99 apartments within six separate buildings. “It was a big job, but again, you do what you have to do,” she said. She also continued with her retail career. When Stevenson’s closed, Evelyn was asked to work at JC Penney’s, which was fairly short-lived because she received an offer to work at Bon Jos, located at the mall. She worked there until they closed the mall location.

Evelyn then went to work at Glenwear, followed by Christopher & Banks, both located at the Viking Plaza Mall at the time. Evelyn’s dedication and strong work ethic continued throughout her employment with Christopher & Banks until they closed in 2021, although she did take one year off, from 2005 to 2006. When Christopher & Banks closed, it wasn’t long before Evelyn was right back where she liked to be, providing personal assistance to customers at Bon Jos. Evelyn exemplifies the personal customer service that hometown businesses provide.

“I have learned so much through the years. The quality of items and ready-to-wear. They don’t want to have to iron, and they don’t want to have to sew a button back on. In fashion trends, I’ve seen how fashion has gone from tailored and classic to the casual looks of every day. I personally like the tailored look, but fashion is personal, and the most rewarding part is helping the customer find exactly what they are looking for and helping them put it all together. The customer appreciates honesty, and they appreciate the understanding from me that it’s all based on personal choice. At the end of the day, it’s all about having happy customers. That is the motivation and that is the reward.” Through all of her years with a career in the fashion industry, Evelyn has always had a female boss.

It’s not only work for Evelyn that is rewarding. She currently works at Bon Jos about 10 – 15 hours a week, leaving time to pursue her free-time interests too. She admits that she has plenty of time for fun. Evelyn plays cards with her friends. Volunteering is important as she has done so at the hospital, at the Andria Theatre, and at the Alexandria Covenant Church.

Evelyn started water aerobics in 1987 and, because she loves it so much, has been diligent with that exercise ever since. She started her water aerobics program in the old Central School pool, and when that closed, she went to Arrowwood for water exercise. When Grand Arbor opened, Evelyn has continually used that facility three times a week. She walks outside in the summer, three times a week... every week.

In all of her 90 years (yes, 90!), Evelyn’s secret to youthful living is to “never slow down.” And it shows. In work and play, if one door closes for any reason, she finds another door open, and she begins the next chapter and the next opportunity. She’s an inspiration to family, friends, retail customers, and anyone who has the pleasure of her company.

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