Longtime Main Street employee retires after 49 years

Published 7:20 am Monday, January 18, 2010

One Main Street mainstay is bidding downtown adieu this year.

She’ll still be around town, just not behind any counters.

Jean Quednow retired from her 49-year Main Street career at the end of December. With a few weeks to go before her 82nd birthday, she decided it’s time to move on.

“It’s time to take life a little easier,” she said.

Quednow, who is originally from Rhinelander, Wis., actually began working part-time at the age of 16, shortly after moving to Austin.

Several after-school jobs were but a preview of 49 consecutive years to come as a jack-of-all-trades at downtown businesses.

A student at Austin High School, Quednow brought home about $4 a week from William’s the Plumber, where she did everything from answering phones, to assisting repairs, to baby-sitting kids. Quednow later worked for Dwight’s Ice Cream Shop and a local bakery.

Upon graduating from high school, she married Edward Quednow and quit her part-time jobs to begin a family.

But, in January of 1961, she found her way back downtown — with her son, Gary, in ninth grade and her daughter, Debra, in third. Quednow was asked to work at Dugan’s Sports Shop, where she would do a little bit of everything.

“I loved working there,” she said, noting that she sold shot guns, re-strung tennis rackets, put line on fishing reels, engraved trophies and re-laced baseball gloves.

Times got a little harder for the business, Quednow said, when discount houses began moving into Austin. Because discount stores purchased their goods in such large quantities, their retail prices were sometimes lower than Dugan’s cost from suppliers, she recalled.

“To this day, I try to be an in-town shopper, because I know how hard that competition can be for businesses,” Quednow said.

More than 15 years after Quednow started at Dugan’s, George Moline purchased the store, and Quednow was a part of the deal. Moline’s store eventually turned into a trophy shop, with Quednow as manager when Moline was away with his auctioneer business.

Quednow sometimes worked at the auctions too.

The store was later sold, and Quednow said she was out of work for no less than three weeks when she was approached about another opportunity. Mary Moline, owner of Bendixen’s Jewelry, brought Quednow on board. Here, Quednow could again use her engraving skills and the customer service practices that she had spent so many years honing.

Quednow said her favorite memories at the jewelry store include helping her grandson, Matt, choose a ring for his fiancé, Sarah, and keeping it a secret. They were married this fall.

“Mary designed her a beautiful ring with sapphires and diamonds,” she said. “That was a very special time for me.”

Quednow also recalls anxious times at the store, such as when she was asked to engrave a Rolex for the first time.

“I thought about it for three days before starting. I was so worried about making a mistake,” she said. “It turned out beautifully.”

One of Quednow’s favorite pieces of jewelry is her husband’s wedding band that she had turned into a gold nugget so that she can wear on a chain as a necklace.

Her husband Edward had passed away suddenly when Quednow was 62, and just about to retire.

“I decided to go back to work,” she said. “I was thankful to have a job. It was very therapeutic for me.”

As she looks back over the years, Quednow remembers the friends she made while working, and notes how fortunate she was to have such fine employers.

“I can honestly say that I enjoyed every day that I went to work,” Quednow said. “I was always treated well, and I sold everything from shot guns to diamond rings.”

She also recalls watching Main Street change before her eyes. When Quednow started working, there were five jewelry stores, several women’s ready-to-wear shops like Marvin’s and Wallace’s, the Shaw Gym, a hardware store, many gift shops, Woolworth’s, Nate’s War Surplus and Smith’s Shoes among many other shops right downtown.

“There used to be so many places to shop, and it has been interesting to see things change,” she said.

“All in all, it has been wonderful,” Quednow said. “In 49 years, I’ve never had a quiet minute.”

In addition to working, Quednow spent 12 years on the board of the Hormel Historic Home, and one as president. She is also involved with her church and has been a girl scout volunteer.

She has no hard and fast retirement plans, other than to do whatever she chooses each day. This week, she spent time going out to breakfast with friends on three separate occasions.

Quednow also plans to continue monthly visits with old neighbors, reading, knitting, doing jigsaw puzzles, spending time with her great-great-grandchildren, Abby and Erin, who recently moved to Austin, and visiting her sister in Colorado who is near 90 years old.

“It has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve our many Austin and surround area customers over the past 49 years,” Quednow said. “It’s been a good run.”