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Employees of closed Ward's store continue annual party

December 11, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alician@herald-mail.com
  • Ann Myers and Gary Boggs say hello at a Christmas party Saturday night for former employees of Montgomery Ward at Valley Mall. Myers was with the company for 44 years and Boggs for 22 years.
Ric Dugan | Staff Photographer

Some worked in lawn and garden, some fitted customers with shoes and some sold cosmetics. Others managed the business office, while still others peddled records back when music was still recorded on vinyl.

But all the people gathered in the meeting room at the Sleep Inn Saturday night in Hagerstown were former employees of Montgomery Ward at Valley Mall. And though the store closed its doors when the department store chain went out of business in 2001, each of the former employees remembered working there with enough fondness to reunite for a 10th annual co-worker Christmas party.

Ann Huffman, 56, of Boonsboro, emceed the event. Huffman, who was employed by Montgomery Ward for 27 years, recalled the day she applied for a job. It was 1974 and the downtown store was just about to move into the brand new Valley Mall. A worker in the personnel office told her there was an opening in the new store’s cafeteria-style restaurant — the Buffeteria. She told Huffman to go to a room down the hall and to sit and wait there.

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“I went in the room and thought, oh my God, look how many people are applying for the Buffeteria job,” Huffman said. “And oddly, they were all talking about sales and budgets.” A while later, the personnel worker found Huffman and demanded to know what she was doing in the wrong room.

“I'd gone and sat down in the sales managers' meeting,” Huffman told the amused group of roughly 55 people. “That's how I started. I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It is that kind of light-hearted humor that seems to characterize the group and keep the former employees connected.

Jackie Moses, 61, of Sharpsburg, is an organizer of the annual Christmas party. Moses said another former store employee, Carolyn Stetak, 68, of Hagerstown, began coordinating breakfast meetings for fellow former employees after the closing. There was such enthusiasm that Moses and Stetak decided to plan a Christmas party, and the event has gone on each year since.

“That we get together as a group, that we still draw, is a phenomenon, I think,” Huffman said. “There are companies still in business that don't do this.” Each of the former co-workers stood following dinner and shared stories regarding their time at the store.

Several said they had worked at other Montgomery Ward stores, but none had the same camaraderie and rapport as the Valley Mall group.

Penny Crabtree, 56, of Martinsburg, W.Va., worked at the store for 25 years, and met her husband there. Though she left for a management position with another company in 1999, she has always stayed in touch with her Montgomery Ward friends.

“You don't always find that kind of friendship and loyalty,” Crabtree said. “It's a nice, warm feeling to get together and catch up. And we still always talk about Montgomery Ward, even though it is no longer.”

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