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Ninety Years Young

Ninety Years Young Ninety Years Young

Long-time employee Bill Whitmus celebrates 90th birthday

On Friday, March 22, Bill Whitmus took a break from his morning shift at Miller and Sons Supermarket to celebrate his 90th birthday alongside coworkers.

A long-time employee, Whitmus has stocked and faced shelves at the community grocery store for over two decades. Even at 90 years old, he works three to four days a week — picking up extra shifts if needed — and arrives for an early start time of 6:30 a.m.

Whitmus’ son, Wade, told the Press that his dad wakes up at 4:40 a.m. to ensure enough time to get ready, eat breakfast and arrive at Miller and Sons ahead of his scheduled start time.

“Dad hates to be late anywhere,” he said. “[He] is known to say, ‘Isn’t that cutting it close,’ if we plan to go somewhere and arrive close to our scheduled time.”

Over the years, Whitmus has developed close relationships with the morning stocking crew. Millers and Sons employee Amber Roach said the group consists of a few people in their 90s, some in their 80s and a couple in their 70s.

“It’s fun — their little banter back and forth,” she said. “They each have their own aisle… You can hear the guys in Aisle Four talking and the guys in Aisle Five will chime in.”

On the morning of his birthday, Whitmus stocked his aisle by himself, celebrated with the crew, and then returned to another aisle to give a coworker a hand — something Wade described as “just another day” for his dad.

“Folks I talk with still marvel that my dad works three to four days a week and starts his day so early,” he said. “Well, that is just my dad… A dedicated employee concerned with doing a good job, working hard and being on time.”

‘Age is just a number’

During a morning visit to Miller and Sons — where Whitmus shared stories from his life and time working at the store — his coworkers stopped by frequently to express their appreciation.

Everett Johnson, who works five days a week at 93 years old, told the Press he’s enjoyed working with Whitmus. Johnson said Whitmus always pushes him to work harder, noting he often finds Whitmus lying on the floor in an attempt to reach the bottom shelves.

“This is just like going to the gym,” Johnson said. “You get down on your knees, you get up, you reach up… and the best part about it — you get paid for it.”

Roach said one of the best things about working with the morning stocking crew is listening to their life stories and experiences before Millers. Prior to working in Verona, Whitmus was living in Wolf Point, Mont., with his wife, Helen.

Whitmus shared that he spent three years serving in the United States Army, spending time at various places like Fort Gordon (now Fort Eisenhower) in Georgia and a missile site in New Mexico. He recalled his time stationed in Alaska, where he caught sight of the Sputnik launch in 1957, the world’s first artificial satellite.

While living in Montana, Whitmus celebrated 61 years in the Elks Club and 32 years with the masonics. But then, the unexpected happened: his wife received a cancer diagnosis. This led the couple to sell their house and move closer to their son Wade in Verona, where Whitmus found employment at Miller and Sons.

Helen received treatment for cancer in her blood for 18 years until it spread to her bones. Whitmus said doctors gave her six weeks to live, but she made it nine months. She passed away on Aug. 5, 2020.

“Some days, when I’m real tired, I think a lot about her,” Whitmus said. “But most of the time I’m trying to keep busy at the store here.”

Wade described his parents — who were married for one month short of 59 years — as “inseparable.” Whitmus served as Helen’s primary caregiver during their final couple years together.

Throughout that time, Wade said Millers was extremely understanding — allowing him time off when needed and even holding his job for him.

“Millers was a blessing to our family and especially dad,” he said. “The ability for dad to return to work once again, be active and socialize played a big role in him being able to survive as best as he could through the grieving process after mom passed.”

When Whitmus isn’t working, he likes to spend his free time completing puzzles. He’s done over 100 puzzles, which he said get glued together and displayed on the wall.

Continuing to work at 90 years old is not only a testament to his Whitmus’ work ethic, but the opportunities Millers provides for seniors to leave the house, socialize and get exercise, Wade told the Press.

But for Whitmus, age is nothing more than a number. Wade said his parents lived by the approach that “one is only really as old as one feels.”

“Even with some health issues, I think dad still thinks he is a young man full of energy and [is] always ready to share a story or two,” he said.

(Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted by permission of the Verona Press in Verona, Wis.)

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