A chosen family

At dawn, Marilyn Huffman prepares to move loads of fenceposts to the other side of the business property at Kenny's Value Center. Before working the forklift at the store, Marilyn was a farmer. She now raises and rides horses in addition to working for Kenny Williams, store owner.

“Oh! I’ve got something for Linda,” says Mary Nichols as she scurries off to the back room where Linda Ritchi is working on orders and bookkeeping.  Almost as soon as the door shuts, there’s a cackle and muffled laughter.  Mary and Linda emerge, chuckling. At the register, Liz Wade shoots a knowing glance at Mary, her sister. Before heading outside toward the waiting forklift holding steel fence rails, Marilyn Huffman winks.

The employees at Kenny’s Value Center have been working with one another for nearly 30 years.  They know how to get the better of each other in the long hours of their shifts. 

Mary, Linda, Liz and Marilyn are the backbone of this long-standing storefront, sharing nearly all the wide variety of responsibilities. They squeeze past each other in the packed aisles, cracking smiles and patting one another’s shoulders. A bumped elbow turns into a gentle ribbing and feigned outrage at the crowding.

As the four mainstays care for customers, store owner Kenny Williams arms himself for a long day ahead with a sandwich, water, and a soda and makes his way out the door. He’s working to keep his store stocked with the essentials (and lots of odds and ends) for the large community it serves. What was established in 1976 as one-brick grocery store has grown into a multi-building business selling everything from cookies and cake mix to wrenches, feed and fence posts.

In the back aisle, a weathered customer sorts through loaves of bread and calls out to Linda by name to ask if there’s any sales this week. “Probably tomorrow, darlin’,” she calls back, without needing to look up from the register she’s tapping numbers into. The door opens and another customer pokes his head in, saying “Ten on one?” and gesturing to the gas pumps outside. Liz looks over her glasses to acknowledge the request and makes for the other register. The women make easy conversation among themselves and with customers. “We’re like family,” Linda smiles.

From the forklift, Marilyn takes a moment during a chilly November morning to chat with her grandson who has stopped for a visit.
Mary Nichols restocks grocery items, one of her various responsibilities over the 30-plus years she's worked at the country store.
Liz Wade (left) and her sister, Mary, have worked at Kenny's Value Center for the better part of 30 years. Their working relationship is easy but as Liz says, "We have our moments."
Mary relaxes with a cigarette during a break from her work at the counter.
At the counter, Marilyn takes a phone call from a customer interested in purchasing fencing. She's been working the forklift and farm supply portion of the business for nearly 20 years.
Mary (right) teases her coworkers, Marilyn (center) and Liz as they review an order.
Mary (left) and her sister, Liz, have been working at the store for nearly 30 years. They work well together but sometimes, Liz says, jokingly, "I dont know how we're related."