At age 86, local decorator ready for semi-retirement

November 11, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Even at 86, interior decorator Sam Turner isn't ready to hang it up.

The Hagerstown resident has spent the last 17 of his more than 60 years in the interior design business working at Neikirk's of Hagerstown. Turner will retire from Neikirk's at the end of November, but he plans to keep working part time as a freelance designer, he said.

"I love the work. I believe in quality and giving good service," Turner said. "And I want to keep moving."

It's hard to stop Turner, said Neikirk's owner, James E. Neikirk.

Despite previous heart problems, the senior employee resists staying off ladders to measure for window dressings and still comes into work every day to do interior design work with residential and commercial clients, Neikirk said.

"God bless him, all Sam wants to do is work," Neikirk said. "He probably wouldn't even retire if I didn't think it was time."


Turner suffered his second heart problem in July, when doctors discovered an aneurysm in his aorta, he said. He had a heart attack about five years ago while sitting at his desk on a Saturday afternoon.

Neikirk said he received a late-night call from Turner's doctor a few hours before Turner was scheduled to have heart surgery.

"Sam wanted to talk to me about his unfinished jobs. That's the kind of customer service this guy gives," Neikirk said. "He was putting his customers in front of his own life."

Turner said working with the public is his favorite part of a job that includes helping clients select the floor, wall and window coverings that best suit their needs and tastes.

"I think I enjoy the people as much as anything," he said.

One of 15 children, Turner left school after eighth grade to begin working on a Washington County farm. At 16, he went to work for the Hagerstown Shoe Co. for six years before taking a job with the Statton Furniture Co. for 27 cents an hour, he said.

Turner accepted a 7-cent pay raise in 1942 when he transferred to Maidstone Interiors, a downtown Hagerstown business that was owned by Statton's, he said. Turner spent the next 15 years supervising shipments and setting up showrooms from New York to Grand Rapids, Mich., he said. He also met his wife at Maidstone, where she helped manufacture draperies and slipcovers.

Sam and Ruth Turner opened a small interior design shop in their Hagerstown home in 1957. The couple's business boomed, and they opened Turner's Decorating store on Dual Highway in 1966. Sam Turner said he decided to sell the business in 1985 when his wife's health took a bad turn and the business's accountant (Neikirk) resigned to take over his father's interior design company.

Turner sold his business to Neikirk, and agreed to serve as a part-time consultant for one year to help with the transition. The veteran designer was soon working 50 hours a week for a business that has expanded from one to four storefronts since 1985, Neikirk said.

"Sam is 100 percent professional. And he's still as sharp as he ever was," Neikirk said. "He's taught everyone here so much. He will be sorely missed."

He might not be in the store every day, Turner said, but he has no plans to stop sprucing up spaces.

"Retire?" he asked. "How do you spell that word?"

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