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Rural Valley woman a Wal-Mart legend at 81

Louis B. Ruediger
Louise Reefer, 81, of Rural Valley, stands at the crafts desk where she works inside the Walmart in East Franklin. Friday, March 21, 2014.

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By Diane Ascerni
Monday, March 24, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

Louise Reefer, 81, is a little woman whose big heart has been in the fabrics and crafts department of the Kittanning Wal-Mart since the store opened in 1992.

“I started 21 years ago,” Reefer said. “I was a widow and really needed it — this job came just at the right time.”

Reefer of Rural Valley said that her husband's death at the age of 57 was sudden and unexpected, leaving her and her life plans in a lurch so many years ago.

“I am a licensed beauty operator, and we were making plans for me to open my own shop when he died,” she said. “Then Wal-Mart came into Kittanning, and I applied for a job. When I got hired, I decided that I would think of this store as my store.”

Although her base of operations is usually fabrics and crafts, she has expansive knowledge of the entire store, as evidenced by the number of requests made of her on a day-to-day basis. If Wal-Mart has it, Louise will know it and find it.

“I love my job,” she said.

And it seems customers love her. Second and third generations of families look to her for guidance in everything from seventh-grade sewing projects to fabric and design choices for the advanced quilter.

Reefer gives every question and every questioning customer her full attention. If asked her opinion, she will be honest, yet so courteous in her response that the crafter is not offended.

“Every time I've tried a new adventure in crafts, Louise has known what to do,” said customer Cheryl Zboran of North Buffalo Township. “She always asks about what you are doing now the next time you are in her department. She's truly interested in you.”

Barb Panchik of North Buffalo appreciates the extra effort that Reefer extends to her clientele.

“She's always so nice and willing to help you find whatever you need,” Panchik said.

Time spent at the cloth-cutting table with Reefer goes beyond the obvious business transaction. Casual conversation may have everything or nothing to do with your purchase, and repeat customers develop a friendly familiarity with the petite lady as she measures and cuts their material.

And the senior Wal-Mart worker does her job with the vitality of someone who is 18.

“She never stops,” said coworker Carolyne Jones. “She knows how to do everything.”

For Reefer, who was born and raised on a farm in the Punxsutawney area, it's all in a day's work.

“I want to be as productive as I can, for as long as I can,” she said.

Diane Ascerni is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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