December 08, 2022

Fareway’s DeForest to ‘check-out’ after 46 years

After 46 years and the last 28 in Osceola, Fareway manager Jeff DeForest is ready for one last inventory and then he’ll call it a day.

DeForest started with Fareway in Winterset on Nov. 17, 1976 at age 16, working as a carry-out person.

He had delivered newspapers as a child, and then worked as a projectionist at Winterset’s movie theater, The Iowa Theater. DeForest had applied at Fareway, where his older brother worked, but didn’t get the job.

Some time later, he got a call asking if he was still interested in a position at Fareway, and he was. He never got to work with his brother, who had moved on by the time DeForest started.

DeForest spent six years in Winterset before being transferred to the Fareway in Harlan, where he stayed for four years and was then transfered to Eagle Grove. There would be another transfer to Jefferson where DeForest would have his first assistant manager position, and then Altoona as first assistant manager for a new, larger Fareway store.

On Sept. 14, 1994, DeForest received a call from Fareway’s Bob Cramer about a management position in Osceola.

“They said, we have an opportunity for you…and I came down…the rest is history,” said DeForest.

With Fareway transfers, the moves happened right away - DeForest got the call in early afternoon, and had to be in Osceola just a couple of hours later. DeForest left Altoona for Osceola, taking over the store immediately. He replaced longtime Fareway manager Terry Landis.

Changes

Having nearly five decades with the same company, DeForest has seen many changes, one of the biggest being the advances in technology.

“When I started at 16, there were no computers,” said DeForest, who learned on cash registers with a penny punch machine.

If the power went out, the registers had a crank so that cashiers could keep ringing people up. Items were marked with a stamper, an item DeForest still has in his office. The amount and variety of available grocery items has also increased significantly since DeForest’s early days in the business.

DeForest said one of the best changes Osceola’s Fareway has seen was when it moved locations in 2007. The older store, which was Fareway’s 30th store, had narrow aisles, tiny shopping carts, bright orange price tags, no standing freezers and no scanners. The new store, however, converted to computers for scanning and computerized checkout systems; Osceola was one of the last stores to convert to computers for scanning items.

In his introductory interview with the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune during his first hours in Osceola, DeForest stated that he wanted to increase the number of employees, and allow for more flexibility for high school students who were involved in extracurriculars. DeForest was able to accomplish just that, and over the years Fareway’s culture has evolved to become more family-centric, wanting employees to spend more time with their families.

“When I became manager, it was a different expectation back then. It was your store, and you’re supposed to take care of it,” said DeForest.

It wasn’t unusual for DeForest to put in over 70 hours of work a week when he came to Osceola; now, he works around 50.

Transfers from one Fareway store to another have also slowed down across Fareway in general, as many employees want to make their home in one location. Everyone who currently works in Osceola’s Fareway are people who DeForest has hired, which he said helps him immensely in keeping the store running smoothly.

“Everyone in this store, I’ve hired. I’m proud of that,” said DeForest.

Retirement plans

When it comes to his plans for retirement, DeForest said it’s “up in the air, going to see what happens.”

One thing he does plan to do is spend more time with his family.

His wife, Debbie, retired from American State Bank in January and they have two sons, Trevor and Brent. Trevor works as an assistant manager at the Fareway in Maquoketa, where he lives with his wife and five children. Brent currently resides in Oregon with his wife and dog, but a change of job at the company he works for will see him moving from the west coast to Maine.

“[There will be] more opportunities to visit more places,” said DeForest.

As for the next manager of the store, that decision will not be announced by Fareway until the week of DeForest’s retirement. DeForest said the person who Fareway is considering will likely be asked on that Monday, and if they agree, ready themselves for the change. DeForest will then hand the keys over to the new manager on his last day.

Last days in store

DeForest’s last physical day working at Fareway is Oct. 29; he then has six weeks of vacation that he will take, bringing his official retirement date to Dec. 17.

When asked about what he’ll miss the most, DeForest said without hesitation “the people.”

“The employees, and the customers. Except Jim [the dairy manager],” said DeForest with a smile (he will miss Jim, too). “I wouldn’t have done this for this long if it weren’t for the people I worked with and the customers coming in…you get so involved in people’s lives and you really become a part of their weekly routine…you really make such a connection with them, it makes it so rewarding.”

No retirement party at the store is planned, DeForest preferring to spend his last week talking with his customers and making final memories with them.

“My last week, I’ve already told my crew, don’t plan on me for anything,” said DeForest. “I can sack and carry groceries…take it out like I brought it in, sacking groceries and taking them out to the cars.”

Though DeForest never saw himself retiring when he got to Osceola, he’s ready, and noted that Fareway has a lot of 40+ year length of service employees, something that is becoming less common across all industries. DeForest thinks this speaks well to Fareway and its working culture.

“It’s really cool, it’s been fun, it’s been a wild run. Way fun. Fareway has been very, very good to me; I appreciate it more than you can know,” said DeForest.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.