Customers shopping at Festival Foods in Andover have grown accustomed to seeing Virginia “Ginny” Ronsberg’s bright smile in the floral department.
Family, close friends and coworkers stopped by June 24 to wish her a happy 80th birthday.
“She just makes shopping here so much better,” said Peggy Gelakoski of Andover as she dropped off a birthday present.
Gelakoski considers Ronsberg a mother figure because any time she needed help buying flowers or just someone to talk to, she was there for her.
As vice president of fresh foods and marketing for Festival Foods, Jason Herfel is frequently at the Andover store and always makes a point of visiting Ronsberg.
“When I see Virginia, she always has a smile on her face,” Herfel said.
When she sees Herfel and other close friends like Gelakoski, she usually gives them a big hug.
“I just love working here,” said Ronsberg, who now lives in Ramsey.
Her father was a painter and an antique dealer right up to the time he died at the age of 96. One of her great grandmothers and grandmother both reached 100 years of age, so Ronsberg said she hopes she has many more wonderful years of life and work ahead of her.
“I’ll know (when to retire) when I can’t do the job any more or when they tell me,” she said.
Ronsberg was not thinking of working for Festival Foods until her grandson Anthony mentioned it had an opening for a florist at the Brooklyn Park store. He figured she was bored with retirement and would be good for the job because of her retail experience, Ronsberg said. She started out at 15 hours a week and steadily grew to full-time. She now works 32 hours a week.
Rod Barden, director of produce and floral, hired her in November 1998, so she is just five months away from her 15-year anniversary with the company. She worked almost four years in Brooklyn Park before being asked to transfer to the new store in Andover in October 2002.
“She’s so great with her customers,” Barden said. “Her people skills keep people coming back.”
The people are why Ronsberg wants to continue working long past her 80th birthday. As Gelakoski said, Ronsberg does much more than ring up customers’ purchases from the floral department, she offers motherly advice on flowers and life when asked.
Customers have invited her to graduation parties and wedding. She went to three graduation parties this year. She usually runs into customers when doing her own shopping or stopping by the bank. She is also friends with current and past coworkers. She rides motorcycles with the meat cutter from the Brooklyn Park Festival Foods.
Ronsberg and the store have received many thank you cards. There have been many appreciative men who needed guidance on buying flowers for their girlfriend or wife. She has done the floral arrangements at some weddings.
She never had any formal training on how to choose the best flowers for any occasion, but had a knack for it. A lot of people will only bring vases to the store and she will find flowers she thinks they will like, according to Ronsberg.
She wraps every order tightly in paper to protect the flowers, which does not always happen at every store, Ronsberg said.
When a friend loses a loved one too soon, she knows how they feel because her husband Virgil died almost 16 years ago. Their daughter Debbie was killed in a snowmobile accident two days before Christmas 28 years ago. She also has a son, Greg, and daughter, Bonnie Halverson.
A daughter of Debbie’s will be giving birth in July to a baby girl, which will be Ronsberg’s 10th great-grandchild.
Krystal Dominick, one of Ronsberg’s five grandchildren, remembers being the only girl at school with a new hair style every day because this was one of her grandmother’s many talents.
Dominick learned manners and how to do house chores from her grandmother as a little girl, and she learned how to know you are in love and how a man should treat a woman as she became a young woman, she said.
Ronsberg was a very welcome mentor because Krystal’s mother was not in the picture when she and her grandfather Virgil came to live with her and her father Greg, who was working three jobs at the time and needed help at home.
Virginia and Virgil had been living in Florida for a few years prior and she asked her employer to switch her to second shift so she could watch her granddaughter get on the school bus every day.
Ronsberg grew up in Barnesville in rural northwestern Minnesota. She and Virgil continued living there until they moved to the Twin Cities in 1959 when General Mills transferred him.
Ronsberg had been working for Northwestern Bell telephone company in Fargo, N.D. After the move, she got a job with Sears and spent 20 years with that company and was part of two separate teams that opened up the Brookdale store in Brooklyn Center and Ridgedale location in Minnetonka.
She worked on the main department floor and in the ordering department in Brooklyn Center before being transferred to the new Minnetonka store to be in the customer services credit department.
They lived in Florida for about three-and-a-half years after they retired, but Virginia did work for the J. Byrons department store there before they moved back to the Twin Cities to help Greg and Krystal. They both worked 10 years at Watt/Peterson printing company. It was during this time that Virgil became sick, but their employer allowed him to continue working as long as he wanted to and were very helpful, Virginia said.
It was not long after her husband died that Virginia decided to forego retirement again to work for Festival Foods.
“My favorite part is just meeting my customers, visiting with them and sharing stories,” she said. “They’re just all good friends.”
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]