Photo by George Lauby
Johnson relaxing at Cody Park
For 15 years, Bonnie Johnson held one of the most demanding jobs in town, managing North Platte’s busy Kwik Stop at the corner of B and Jeffers. After a decade and half on the job, Johnson retired June 6.
The B and Jeffers Kwik Stop opened in 1961. It was the flagship store of what has grown to be 21 Kwik Stops in a wide region.
Standing at a busy intersection in the middle of town, the store is open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Kwik Stop clerks deal with every personality at every time of the day and night, and Johnson’s job was to keep the store operating smoothly.
She dealt with hundreds of thousands of fine folks over the years, along with a fair share of grouches, drunks and unreliable employees.
“I’ve been called everything but a white person,” she said, “but I never let it get to me. I just put a smile on. That was my way of getting to them.”
She recalls the grief employees took from disappointed drinkers when Kwik Stop adopted a policy of no beer sales after 11 p.m., which was good for the community and cut down on trouble over time, she said.
Johnson also recalls a clerk who stole beer, one bottle at a time, passing it out a small window to a friend in the back of the store. Johnson started to find empty six-pack boxes in the store, leading her to catch the thief.
Another time, an employee tried to steal cash, taking pains to pretend to put the money in the safe for the benefit of cameras, but a close look at security film revealed the truth.
Despite such incidents and challenges, she said most employees were good, including Don Stratton, who held down the night shift for nine years at B and Jeffers.
“He was the best night-shift man I ever had,” she said.
On a normal workday, Johnson was at the store at 5 a.m., updating the records first thing. She usually worked the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. shift. And, if a worker called in sick and a replacement couldn’t be found, she would work longer.
Working was her lifestyle. At age 13, she cleaned the sixth floor of the Pawnee Hotel for 50 cents an hour. Throughout high school, she worked at Ellett’s Tastee Freeze. She worked at Ace Hardware for 10 years before joining Kwik Stop. She quit only when her husband’s job took them to Cape Kennedy, Fla., where she managed a Circle K convenience store for 11 years. When the couple returned to North Platte, she went back to work at Kwik Stop.
When she retired, owner Dan O’Neill held an open house for Johnson. Many of her customers who came to say goodbye and wish her well. In all, she’d been in the convenience store business for 26 years.
Along the way, she raised four children. She now has 15 grandchildren, which she is enjoying to the max.
“I sleep better,” she said during a recent outing at Cody Park with some of her grandchildren. “I’ve always been a light sleeper, but now the phone doesn’t ring when the shifts change. It’s nice to be retired.”
First published in the June 26 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.