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OUT AND ABOUT: 'I'm going to work'

Cyndy Swanstrom, a current MJB Home center employee, will celebrate working 50 years in the same building -- for three different companies -- in August. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The running joke at MJB Home Center is "when they sold the business, I went with it," Cyndy Swanstrom explains.

That's because, come August, Swanstrom will have worked in the same building -- for three different companies -- for 50 years.

Swanstrom, 74, was hired to work at the Sears Catalog store on Aug. 24, 1964, which was located where MJB Home Center is today, near Fifth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest in downtown Bemidji.

When she started at Sears, a customer would physically come into the store to order an item; she would write it down on an order form, send that through the mail and the package then would be shipped back to the store for the customer to pick up.

Swanstrom said over the next 29 years, how a person ordered an item changed five times. When the store finally closed, in 1993 when the company ended the catalog, she said they were using a then-sophisticated word processor connected to a phone line.

After Sears closed, the building was split into both Western Auto and MJB Home Center -- with a wall down the middle separating the business. Swanstrom continued right on working, and although her job duties were changing, she always stayed in the general bookkeeping field.

In 2000, Western Auto closed and MJB Home Center took over the entire building as it stands today. Swanstrom's official title today is "accounting cashier." Technology continues to change, but she keeps on top of it as best she can. "I'm very efficient with our program," she said.

Through the years, Swanstrom has seen downtown Bemidji's transformation. Years ago, she said, most of the downtown stores were open and busy until 9 p.m. each weekday. When the mall came to town, she said, some stores eventually moved there and gradually the downtown businesses started to slow.

Although most of her co-workers are men, she has worked with a few women over the years. "I like the people that I work with very much, but I also enjoy the customers. " Swanstrom said. Customers often question her about retirement, however she does not have any plans to step away. "I figure as long as I'm healthy and the boss will put up with me, I'm going to work," she said. Swanstrom remains an active member as the community as well participating in several local charity walks.

The best part of her job, she said, has been able to work with so many different people.

"We all learn something new when someone new comes in, the biggest thing is to smile and just do the best you can," she said.