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Event digs up memories for Wal-Mart employees
Times photo: Jim Winter Construction crews move dirt to smooth the landscape for the Supercenter, to be located at County N and Youth Cabin Road. Along with building construction, crews have to relocate County N farther to the north to accommodate the 156,500-square-foot facility.
MONROE - Sixteen Monroe Wal-Mart associates with the store since it opened in 1985 put spades to dirt Wednesday to mark the start of construction for the new Monroe Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Community officials joined Lisa B. Nelson, Wal-Mart's senior public affairs manager in Wisconsin, for groundbreaking ceremonies at the building site at the intersection of County N and Youth Cabin Road.

"We are especially pleased and enthusiastic to expand in Monroe," Nelson said. "This was the first community in Wisconsin to have a Wal-Mart store, and we are proud of the long-lasting relationships we have formed with our customers, associates and the community itself."

"This is a proud moment for us," store manager Ron Fager said. "Sixteen people opened up this Wal-Mart 23 years ago and will open this (new) one."

Fager recognized the associates who have served customers for 20 years or more.

"I could keep going, down to 19, 18, 17 ... years," Fager said.

Fager said the 180 dedicated associates in Monroe are one reason the store was named No. 1 in the company's Division 1 in 2007. Division 1 covers Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Minnesota.

The 16, all women, were reluctant to be interviewed and chose Judy Hoesly, customer relations manager, to be their spokesperson.

"I enjoy working at Wal-Mart. I have a lot of great friends," Hoesly said.

Her spokesperson position didn't last long, as the other women shared memories of their time together.

And began to talk like, yes, a true family.

"We're a family that sticks together and helps each other out," Renee Beverly said.

Mary Brenum remembered being in receiving and manually checking everything that arrived via truck.

"We counted everything with a clicker," she said. "And priced each piece separately."

"When we started it was all pencil and paper, now it's all computerized," Cindy Heins said.

Vicki Gobeli and Sandy Groom recalled unloading trucks in all kinds of weather, "in the snow and the rain."

And they all remembered the fire in April 1986. The store was down for only 96 hours. Associates took office papers to their home basements to dry out.

Not all memories were of overcoming hard times.

They remember Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, coming to the store - twice.

But after an hour of ceremonially listening to accolades, posing for photos and answering reporters' questions, the women headed back to the store.

"We've got a job to do," Heins said.