Edna Schrandt, now in her 40th year working at JC Penney in Decorah, is retiring next week. (Photo by Sarah Strandberg)
Edna Schrandt, now in her 40th year working at JC Penney in Decorah, is retiring next week. (Photo by Sarah Strandberg)
After four decades, Edna Schrandt is ready for a change.

"It's time to move on. I'm 80 years old," she said.

Schrandt's birthday is actually Nov. 9, and in conjunction with the milestone, she's planning to retire after working for the past 40 years at JC Penney in Decorah.

"I never thought I'd be there so long. It's been a very good work place," she said.

Schrandt and her husband, Ted, farmed in Canoe Township, where together they ran a dairy. After Ted injured his back, the couple sold their farm and she began working at JC Penney in August of 1973. The Schrandts will celebrate their 60th anniversary in January.

"I've seen a lot of changes," Schrandt said.

In the beginning, she worked only Thursday nights and all day Saturday, and filled in for other employees.

Soon she was asked if she wanted to work fulltime as an office specialist, which she's been doing ever since. Her duties have included bookkeeping, inventory-related tasks, pricing and cashier. She learned "on the job" and through some company training.

"Associates used to count everything. Now it's all computerized. The company does inventory through a computer program," Schrandt said.

"When I started, everything was done manually in the office, with adding machines and in your head. There were lots of papers. You had to do your own editing manually on time sheets. Now everything is done on a computer," Schrandt said.

Employees dress more casually today compared to when she started working.

"Now they can wear jeans to work, something we could never do then ... it was the pant-suit age when I started," she said.

She also remembers when catalog orders were handwritten; now they're all done online.

Schrandt is working with her sixth manager. She was hired by Rollin Hines. The other managers she's worked for are John Moore, Dorrance Davick, Philip Brei, Ann Chrenen and current manager Jessica Krauel.

It was during Brei's tenure the store experienced "major change," transitioning from cash registers to computers.

"I learned to adapt. We went through some training and we went to some schools," she said.

She liked the challenges her job presented.

"If you don't go to a job and give 110 percent, there's no need going there - find another job," said Schrandt, who attributes her work ethic to her "work-horse" family (Schnitzler) upbringing in Bluffton.

"If it's easy every day, that's dull and boring. I think I enjoyed every day I went to work."

'Trained' managers

When Krauel began working at Penneys seven months ago, her district manager told her about her new store and what to expect. He also told her about Schrandt.

"He said, 'Pay attention to what she knows.' "

Krauel took her district manager's advice.

"It's incredible what I've learned from her," she said. "She's very good at what she does and cares about people. She's patient and a good teacher."

Krauel's not sure what the store will do without Schrandt.

"I don't know if we'll ever be able to fill those shoes. She's a wealth of knowledge," she said.

The manager said her store's home goods department ranks 29th out of 1,100 JC Penney stores, mostly due to Schrandt's efforts.

Schrandt also serves as the store's United Way captain; the business has had 100 percent participation in the United Way campaign for the past eight years.

Grandchildren, horses

The Schrandts have three children, Mary, Mark and Barb, six grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.

Schrandt said she'd probably spend more time with them in retirement.

"I'll ride a horse more often than I do now, too, at Mark's house," she said of her son who raises barrel racers.

She said she would continue to work as Winneshiek County Fair manager and volunteer with 4-H. During the 45 years she's been a 4-H volunteer, she's served as a club leader and on the youth committee. She's judged fair presentations in other counties.

"It's rewarding. There are so many good kids in the world," she said.

"I've been blessed with good health, so it's important to give back."

Schrandt said she'd also continue to serve as agency representative for Pine Bluff 4-H Camp to the United Way.

And she'll continue to attend Viking home football games and wrestling meets and follow her great- grandson's pee wee wrestling.

'Edna Day,' retirement party

Monday, Nov. 5, will be "Edna Day," at JC Penney, according to Krauel. Coffee and cookies will be served from noon-4 p.m. and friends and customers are invited to wish her well on her last day at the store

Schrandt also is celebrating her retirement and birthday Saturday, Nov. 10, with an open house 1-5 p.m. at the Danan Lansing Building on the Winneshiek County Fairgrounds. Food, cake and beverages will be served and the Buck Hollow Band will perform.