It takes a lot of guts to give up a steady income to pursue your dream.
And to do so at 62? Well, that takes somebody like Betty Hendricks.
Hendricks is retiring Friday after working 25 years at Iola’s Walmart to return to school. This fall she plans to attend Emporia State University to pursue a career as a paralegal.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the law,” Hendricks said Wednesday, in between checking out customers. “And I love school. I’ve always enjoyed doing homework. It’s a lot of fun.”
HENDRICKS came to Iola in the fall of 1973 as a high school senior, having moved to Kansas with her father and brothers from Hawaii. Her father, who had worked with C&H Sugar, was a Missouri native who also left a steady job to pursue his dream, to become a farmer. (Her mother moved to the mainland from Hawaii a few months later.)
“My dad wanted me to graduate here and to go college here, so that’s what I did,” she said.
After high school, Hendricks attended Allen County Community College, then Emporia State Teachers College (now ESU) to earn her teaching degree.
She eventually started teaching, but marriage and motherhood came first.
Her husband bounced around from job to job, as did Betty.
“I probably worked at every restaurant in town,” she laughed. “I worked at China Palace, Sonic, McDonald’s, the Country Club. I think I worked at all of them.”
IN THE INTERIM, Hendricks took advantage of her schooling to teach at the old Iola Christian School, until it folded.
In 1989, she signed on at Walmart shortly after the store opened its doors. Five years into that stint, her father’s health worsened, requiring her to quit to take care of his needs while going back to odd jobs.
“When my dad died, I had a difficult time adjusting,” she admitted.
Fast forward to 1998, and Hendricks was ready to get back in the saddle.
She approached then Walmart store manager, Bud Hendricks, about rejoining the team.
“I joked that he and I were related,” she laughed. “He said, ‘well, we better put you to work.’”
That was 21 years ago.
Because of the nature of her job, seeing scores of customers on a daily basis, but with limited interaction, Hendricks chuckles when she sees those same folks at other places around town.
“They’ll say, ‘I know you from somewhere,’” she said.
Walmart, she replies.
“‘Oh, yes, now I remember,’ they’ll laugh. ‘You’re the one who’s always smiling.’”
“I’M READY for a change,” Hendricks said. “I don’t want to say this isn’t a fun job any more, but I remember at the old store, when we had so much fun. We did things with each other’s families and their kids. Everybody was so involved. Nowadays, everybody is so busy, we don’t really get a chance to get to know each other. But it’s still a good place to work.
“Walmart has been wonderful to me,” she continued. “Actually, I thought I’d stay until I was 70, but the more I thought about it, that’s just too long. There are other things things I want to do. And I told my dad I’d stay 20 years, so I kept my promise.”
Hendricks’ son and three grandchildren live in Colorado Springs. She intends on seeing them much more frequently.
She’s been thrice divorced, most recently in June.
And, of course, she’ll have to pay regular visits to her old stomping grounds for groceries and such.
She carries mixed emotions about leaving.
“I’m leaving a lot of really good friends,” she noted. “And some of the customers and I have gotten really close. It’s going to be very hard to leave Friday. But it’s time.”