If you’ve stepped foot inside Farm & Home Hardware over the past half-century, chances are you’ve talked to Mike Manning.
He’s provided customers with an encyclopedic knowledge of hardware and paint for more than 49 years and is looking forward to retiring Dec. 31.
The 64-year-old was in the midst of another busy day Dec. 20 as he carried a load of fluorescent lights across the store but found the time to share some of his favorite memories and insights.
“Time goes by so quickly,” Manning said. “I was 15 when I started here and everything was manual. We used to unload everything from the truck by hand, even 80-pound concrete mix. Today we have a dock and all sorts of new ways to do things. The people have stayed the same, though, and I’ll miss them.”
The soon-to-be retiree is the nephew of store owner Jim Jerousek. Manning plans to continue living in Wellington but will take an immediate vacation to Florida after his last day.
“It will be a couple months of vacation,” Manning said. “It’s my sister who lives down there with her husband. Maybe I’ll remodel the house. I’ve had people ask me about doing jobs for them. I just like to paint, so as long as I can do that, I’ll be OK.”
Manning has lived with progressive hearing loss since the age of five and is now totally deaf.
He said Farm & Home coworkers have always gone out of their way to assist him with phone calls and other tasks that his disability makes more difficult.
“Everyone here is great and has always been great,” he said. “I had some nerve damage as a kid. The doctor said it could have been from a fever and that’s where the hearing problems came from. I have a hearing aid but I’ve also relied on just reading lips. Some customers have to repeat themselves sometimes but it’s usually fine.”
When coworkers were told of Manning’s gratitude for their help, they said it was usually the other way around.
“Mike is the go-to guy about pretty much anything,” said Crystal Burns. “Everyone helps each other here but Mike is always the number one person you go to. He’s the key person. We’re all going to have to step up our game to fill the void — but that won’t be easy.”
Jennifer Owens said Manning’s knowledge of the store and its customers is second to none.
“We all joke and say he’s basically part of the store,” she said. “It’s going to be really sad to not have him here. He helps with everything and everyone in the community knows him. You really couldn’t ask for a better person to work with and learn from.”
Tears welled in the eyes of DeNita Tuttle as she envisioned working at the store without Manning.
“This is a family,” she said. “We’re here with each other more than with our families at home. Mike is the glue that keeps us all together. He’s always doing practical jokes. He’s such a fun person to be around and knows all and has done all. I’ve learned more from him than almost anyone in my whole life. I was hired to manage the paint department and anything I’ve learned has been from him.”
Manning said the pleasure of helping coworkers and customers will always stick with him.
“Good customer service is just about communication and really listening to someone,” he said. “That’s all it is. I’ve known that from the time I was young and mowing lawns for money. Time flies by. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 49 years.”