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Anita Mahon enjoys long career at Rural King

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By Panzi Blackwell

Some will remember a childhood and past years of early springs when a sure sign of the anticipated season was the arrival of tiny, fuzzy baby chickens at the local feed store. The large cardboard boxes had holes in the sides to allow for air and for glimpses of the little creatures and through which many little “peeps” and “tweets” were heard.

The boxes of chicks, which had been ordered through the feed store by our parents, were picked up and taken home as valuable assets to the family’s survival. The tiny creatures were symbols of hope and foundations of plans to provide for the family table and needs.

Those cute little fuzzy critters were destined, and relied upon, to contribute a large share to the family income and table that year. The chickens not only provided meat for the table and eggs for breakfast, baking and cooking, but the eggs were also counted on for bartering at the grocery and feed stores or for “egg money” for other needs, such as clothing, shoes, etc.

Many do not have the chance to see baby chickens and ducks anymore, let alone handle them, but Anita Mahon enjoys that opportunity as part of her job at Rural King in Vandalia.

As a matter of fact, Anita enjoys most aspects of her job, as her 23 years of working there testifies. Her tasks have been many and varied over those years, as she has been rather a jack-of-all-trades, ready to give a hand to her employers, co-workers and customers whenever and wherever needed.

She has also served as a volunteer worker at Nice Twice in Vandalia, attends Northside Christian Church, counts her grandchildren as her hobby and likes to sew, when she has time.

On the Job

After helping Jeffry Sanders, the 4-year-old son of customers, Dawn and William Sanders, learn how to gently hold a baby ducking, she mentioned how things had changed over the years.

When she began her career with Rural King, a customer could buy any number of baby chicks or ducklings.

“State law now says you have to buy at least 25 chickens and 10 ducks,” she said. “After you buy them, then you can always buy more – you don’t have to buy 25 again.”

The economy has made a difference in demand, she said.

“The only change I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, we’ve had an increase (in demand),” she said. “This past year, a lot of people were buying chickens, with the economy the way it is.

“Everybody was buying a lot of canning supplies, things like that. We sold out of canning jars and flats, things like that. That was the first time we had sold out of jars.”

Anita also has noticed more demand for seeds, and some increase on the price of bulk seed since last year. “That’s the way it is with supply and demand,” she said. “If there is more demand, the price is going to go up.”

Anita is in charge of the outside nursery, in which she has worked over the years. “I used to help Marilyn Smith, who was in charge then,” she said with a note of sadness. When Marilyn, a good friend of Anita’s, died Anita was placed in the position.

This is the beginning of a very busy season for the nursery, as the supply-and-demand aspect is also very evident in the vegetable plants and fruit-bearing trees, as well as the colorful flowering plants, bushes and trees.

“Right now, we have several trees and shrubs,” she said. “This year, we have flowering trees, weeping cherries, weeping pussywillows and twisted redbuds,” she said.

“The temperature is supposed to get very cold this week, so we will take them into the greenhouse. If they are too big for the greenhouse, we will put them on skids and put them inside on the dock.”

Strong winds are also an issue. “We try to move some inside when there is a strong wind. They recommend that if the trees are blown over, to just leave them (until the wind stops). Setting them back up and having them blow over again just causes more damage to them,” she said.

“There was a much bigger demand for vegetable plants last year and for blueberries and blackberries, things like that. It looks like there will be an even bigger demand this year, because of the economy,” she said.

In the past, Anita was also a major helper with pets when the Adopt-A-Pet people out of Greenville came to Rural King in an effort to find homes for unwanted pets.

They no longer have that program here, but an effort to help find homes is still offered by Store Manager Jon Beck, by allowing people to bring their animals and try to find homes for them. A difference now is that the owners must not leave the animals unattended, but stay with them and take any remaining back home at day’s end.

She seemed proud of the store’s recent changes. “We re-arranged. They wanted to make the aisles wider, to make it more accessible to customers,” she said. “People seem to like it. We tell them, ‘Everything is moved except the office, bathrooms, and cash registers,’” she said, with a grin.

Anita has worked all over the store, starting out in appliances. She is in the lawn and garden department most of the time now.

She still helps out where needed, cheerfully. “I just feel like this – you need to, you’ve got to work everywhere,” she said. “You just grab a cart of freight and you take it where it has to go and put it out (on the shelves).”

It is this attitude and her disposition that makes Anita loved by her coworkers and appreciated by her bosses. She feels likewise. “Jon (Beck) and Tim (Hill, the assistant manager) are both my good friends,” she said. “Jon became my boss about four months after I started and has been my boss all these years.”

Does she like her job? “Oh, yes!” she said emphatically.

“I’ve been here twenty-three years, but I’m getting older, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay,” she said.

One has the feeling that Anita Mahon will continue to be on hand at Rural King to welcome the arrival of the baby chicks and ducklings for many more springs…and to bless her co-workers and customers with her friendly smile and helpful manner.