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Work no stranger to 95-year-old employee

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Wednesday's Woman: Bonus video follows the story

By Robert Villanueva

In the Radcliff Goodwill store, where used items ranging from clothes to furniture find new life, employee Gladys Reineke is steadfastly making the most of the one she’s lived for 95 years.

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“The big reason is once you sit down, you’re done,” Reineke said of her motive for continuing to work.

That desire to keep working has continued despite medical issues that included a blood clot in her leg that moved to her lungs a month or so ago and a diagnosis of colon cancer about 26 years ago. Both were successfully treated.

“It seems like every time I go to the hospital I come out ready to go to work,” the Vine Grove resident said.

As Reineke wove through aisles at the store, she pushed a shopping cart holding merchandise to stock. She puts in about 36 hours every two weeks, typically working from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

During her shift, Reineke takes time to greet customers, some of the “beautiful people” she said she’s been glad to meet. Many can’t get over the fact she’s 95, she said.

“I don’t know their names because I call everybody ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie,’” Reineke said.

Born in Isle, Minn., Reineke grew up on a cattle farm, one of eight siblings. If she wasn’t working outside on the farm, she said, she was inside taking care of her siblings.

“I learned to bake home-baked bread when I was 8 years old,” she said.

Going to school meant a four-mile walk, except in winter when she got to take a horse and buggy.

Reineke recalled her first paid job, when she was around 11 or 12.

“I washed dishes in a restaurant for 29 cents an hour,” she said.

When she grew older she worked mostly as a cook in Minnesota. She held one stint at a restaurant for 36 years and worked 12 years at a vacation lodge where she baked pies every day.

“Our specialty was turkey on Sunday,” she said.

About 11 years ago, Reineke’s son-in-law moved her to Vine Grove. Her son-in-law died five years ago, but she still lives next door to her daughter.

“She checks on me every morning and night,” Reineke said.

Now in her fifth year working at the Radcliff Goodwill store, Reineke said everyone has been very good to her. Though her work consists largely of stocking and straightening up, Reineke said she does whatever is needed and asked of her.

“On my day off I work at the church,” she said.

ValleyView Baptist Churchand her faith are the most important part of her life, Reineke said. On Wednesday nights she and a friend serve drinks for a big meal that’s prepared.

“They call us the bartenders,” she said, laughing.

Reineke, who still drives, said she tells people who ask the secret of longevity is to “keep on working, keep your mind going.”

Her personal philosophy, she said, is to love everybody.

Co-workers said everybody seems to reciprocate.

Store manager Troy Rigsby said Reineke lights up a room because she always seems to be in a good mood.

“You just look forward to seeing her every morning,” Rigsby said.

Production clerk Phillip Clark said people respond to Reineke’s personality.

“She’s just, I think, what you call the classic sweet old lady,” Clark said.

For many customers, Reineke is more than a Goodwill employee.

“They know her by name,” Clark said. “Everybody wants to hug on her and ask how she’s doing.”

As Clark spoke, he turned toward Reineke, who was several feet away in the store. Just as he finished speaking a customer greeted and hugged Reineke.

“See?” he said.

Earlier, during that March 14 shift — her 95th birthday — Goodwill employees surprised Reineke with a birthday cake and flowers. She hugged and kissed her co-workers.

Though she has no plans to stop working, she reflected about the possibility of reaching her 100th birthday.

“If the Lord wants me to keep going, I’ll keep going,” she said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

A LITTLE ABOUT GLADYS REINEKE:

  • City of birth: Isle, Minn.
  • City of residence: Vine Grove
  • Favorite music: Religious
  • Favorite TV shows: News, weather
  • Random quote: “I’ve had fun along with all of my work.”

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