When Paul S. Beckwith and Fred Vitt founded Fareway 30 years ago in Boone, it was with the idea that it would be a family oriented company.
When Mark Almquist was contemplating getting his master's in music from the University of Iowa and going pro with his trumpet, he thought of his family.
But he didn't even have to think a minute.
Produce manager Gail Ukasick and scanning coordinator Lisa Nitchals presented Almquist a photo montage quilt of his 30 years with the company.
EDN photo by Dar Isaackson
Almquist, who was on the verge of becoming a professional musician, decided to hang it up and go work for that family oriented company founded by Beckwith and Vitt.
And man, was Estherville lucky.
That's just the latest chapter though of how deeply Estherville and Fareway are intertwined. Founded in 1938 in Boone, Fareway opened a second store that year in Ames. The next year, 1939, the company opened a store in Webster City. The fourth store, in 1940, was in Estherville.
Almquist, who had his music education degree from Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State University), had already played with such luminaries as Stan Kenton, the Air Force Band and the Tonight Show orchestra, and had also taught music for three years each at Ruthven and West Union. And, while the thought of another degree and going professional was tantalizing, Almquist and his wife, Deb, thought first of their family.
"We wanted to raise a family. We didn't want to be on the road all the time. I wanted to be home at night," Almquist said.
So it only seemed natural that Fareway would be a good fit.
Almquist started as a stock clerk in Clear Lake where he worked for three years then another three years in Washington, Iowa. From there it was a two-year stint as assistant manager at Belmond then another two years as assistant manager at Oskaloosa before coming to Estherville Jan. 1, 1991.
"Fareway being a family owned company, they take care of us as good as they can," said Almquist.
Almquist's first store was on South First Street next to Riverside Sinclair. Then the current Central Avenue store was built and opened February 1994.
"We've made our home here for the last 20 years. It's been the best town we've lived in," Almquist said. Estherville was where the Almquists raised their son Andy and daughter Amy.
"It's like a family relationship," Almquist said of the relationship between Fareway and the Estherville community, noting that one woman told him recently that she had been shopping at Fareway since 1952.
The result has been a base of strong customer loyalty.
"We know our customers and they know us," Almquist said. "We want them to be satisfied and to come back."
Almquist credits his long-term employees for his own success.
"Without them I couldn't have done it."
Almquist said he might hire an employee who's 14 and that person may work through high school and two years at Iowa Lakes then go on to a four-year college, but never really leaving Fareway even then, coming back to work Christmas break and summers.
"It's not unusual that someone would be here eight or nine years," he said.
With an atmosphere of mutual respect with his employees, Almquist has a solid, loyal staff.
"It's always important to treat people the way you want to be treated," said Almquist. "I've never advertised for help. I've never had to."
Almquist was feted for his 30 years of service with the company Thursday. On hand to do the honors were Bill Beckwith, former Fareway CEO; Jim Giordina, Fareway area supervisor and many employees, both current and retired.
Beckwith and Giordina presented Almquist with a jacket for his 30 years of service and of course a cake. Employees presented him with a diorama-size photo montage quilt of Almquist and his staff.
So does this mean Almquist has given up music for good?
Absolutely not. In fact, he's never really left it.
"I play almost every day," he said. He has a sound system with a program for digital mixing and composed a song for each of his granddaughters. And he's added the electric piano to his repertoire in addition to the trumpet.
And, just like Fareway, Almquist has had a lifelong love affair with his wife of 36 years, Deb. They grew up three blocks apart and have been together since 10th grade.
Just like family.