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Kormaniks transition to next phase of life with sale of McDonald's stores

As owners of McDonald’s for 36 years, Ros and Peter Kormanik made an impact on the lives of more than 10,000 employees and countless customers who walked through the doors of their stores in Litchfield, Hutchinson and Annandale.

Leaving that was not easy.

“It was tough,” Ros said of the Kormanik’s decision earlier this year to retire and sell their stores. “It was hard. It was really hard to leave. I mean, it was the right decision. It was time for us to step out and enjoy life and spend more time with grandkids and travel. I mean because being the owners, we never personally traveled a lot. And it was time for us to make that decision, but it was a hard decision, too, because of the family – the McDonald’s family.”

Peter and Ros began working at McDonald’s in their teens. Around the mid-1960s, Peter started out as a maintenance man for McDonald’s in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and he worked his way up to shift manager – putting in 40 hours a week while studying, he said. Ros, on the other hand, worked at the McDonald’s in Dinkytown, in the early 1970s – but not quite as a manager.

“Back when I started, they wouldn’t let females in management (positions),” Ros said. “So I was what they called at that time, ‘key person,’ one that would watch the floor, but you didn’t have the manager title. And then after that … I had the opportunity to go to the regional office in Minneapolis, and I became the bookkeeper … for 12 company stores.”

Through their involvement with McDonald’s, Peter and Ros met and hit it off, eventually marrying in 1978. Soon after, a business opportunity for operating McDonald’s stores knocked at Kormaniks’ door. They had the option to either move to Cloquet, Minnesota, or Litchfield – they chose Litchfield.

“I grew up in the Cities, I would never go back to the Cities,” Ros said. “Because I like small community. I like where I know everybody. I go to the grocery store, I know people. I know the people that are checking me out – it’s just a safety issue.”

“I think if you look at the advantages out here (Litchfield), it’s a good school system, low crime, great community support from the chambers, and all the service clubs that we have are doing fine,” Peter added. “The city crew are awesome. … Overall we’ve got a good city government.”

Kormaniks didn’t waste any time getting involved in their new hometown. When they moved to Litchfield in 1983, they dived right into the small-town life. Community involvement was a significant aspect for them to meet and connect with the locals, and also to give back, they said. So in 1993, Peter became a member of the Litchfield City Council and served for 13 years.

“Peter and Ros were great supporters of school activities, always offering coupons for events,” said Judy Hulterstrum, executive director of Litchfield Chamber of Commerce. “They sponsored many chamber events and served on several retail committees. Ros was the main organizer for the annual Snowflake promotion, which is now the Get Wrapped up holiday shopping promotion. In general they have marketed Litchfield and all programs.”

“Ray Kroc’s (McDonald’s owner) thing was ‘support the community that supports you,’” Peter said. “So his word was if you’re in a community, support the community. That’s what we took as our mantra at the time – to just do that. So we were going to support this community any way we can. So I joined the Lions Club, we joined the Chamber of Commerce.”

Kormaniks’ Litchfield McDonald’s store was permeated with the same spirit of service, which drew in many people, who enjoyed not only ordering food, but also spending time socializing with the Kormaniks and the staff.

“Since we live in Litchfield, we do more things in Litchfield than the involvement we had in Annandale and Hutchinson, because we’re here all the time,” Peter said. “We see our customers at the grocery store, we see them at the Central Park, we see them at Watercade. So we’re very attuned to ‘we want this to be the best McDonald’s around,’ because we have that pride to make this store that way.”

Different generations of families had the opportunity to work with the Kormaniks over the years, which created a sense of closeness, inter-dependence and trust among them.

“We’ve had whole families work for us,” Peter said. “We got mom and dad, and then two of their kids – (who) are in high school – work for us. So that tells us that if you have people coming back like that, you must be doing the right thing, because they are proud enough to have their kids coming to work for us. So that makes us feel good.”

On May 1, the Kormaniks turned over their three McDonald’s to Kevin Cook of Brainerd, who now owns 20 McDonald’s stores in different parts of Minnesota, Peter said.

“But we’ve known Kevin a long time, and we’ve been talking for about the last three years,” Peter said. “I was getting old – I turn 70 this year – so it was time for me to move on and relax, and lose the stress of trying to hire employees and train employees, and all the other stuff that’s going on these day – shortage in the workforce and everything else.”

The Kormaniks will continue to help Cook for about two years with training managers to run the business similar to the way they operated their McDonald’s stores.

That knowledge was recognized in a note sent out from the McDonald’s Denver Field Office at the time of their retirement.

“Thank you, Peter and Ros, for your love of McDonald’s,” said Myra Doria, vice president of McDonald’s Denver Field Office, “and for your many contributions to the System over the years. The Denver Field Office wishes you and your family all the best in the future.”

“Ros is still involved,” Peter said. “She still helps with the marketing, in the three towns with the radio stations, newspaper in Annandale – and stuff like that.”

What the Kormaniks hope to get out of retiring is spending more time with their four grandchildren and taking short trips, but still being active in the community.

“So yes, we’re still involved in the community, we’re still going to be involved in things,” Peter said. “I’m just going to take one full year off not volunteering for anything, so that I can decide how much do I really want to get back involved with things. Because part of that time – not only was I on city council and Meeker County Development, Litchfield Industries, being a member of the Lions Club and I also coached my son in hockey for seven years – that was the kind of involvement that we’ve always had.”

Back to school

Big smiles mixed with a few tears Tuesday as students headed back to school at Lake Ripley Elementary School.

Most of the students who bounded off of the steady stream of buses seemed happy and excited for their first day of the new school year — for many kindergartners, their first day of school period.

But there was some apprehension, both from the young students and from some parents.

All were greeted by smiling teachers and administration, in addition to school resource officer Aaron Nelson, who stood outside the building’s main entrance, welcoming students with waves, high-fives and other encouragement.

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A classic tale: Friendship led Paul White to owning a 1949 Jeepster

Paul White never was much of a classic car guy.

And then his friend and former neighbor called with a suggestion. Maybe White would be interested in owning a 1949 Willys-Overland Jeepster?

"I think he was looking for a good home for it," White said, recalling with a chuckle his conversation with Jack Weyrens about five years ago. "He wanted to sell it to someone who would take nice care of it."

White eventually purchased the vehicle two years ago and brought it to his Litchfield home about a year ago. Ever since, he's researched the Jeepster story and slowly become the "car guy" he never thought he was.

That's what brought him to Red Rooster Days Monday in Dassel for the festival's Classic Car Show. He also is considering an appearance at the Church of St. Philip's Bazaar Sunday, Sept. 8.

"I kind of got the bug," White said of his slow build to car connoisseur.

All initially fostered by his neighbor.

White, a representative for Thrivent Financial, and Weyrens, a longtime district court judge, were neighbors for nearly two decades, living on adjacent properties on the north edge of Litchfield. Weyrens and his wife, Kate, eventually moved to St. Paul in retirement. But they maintained a close friendship with White, his wife, Pam, and their family.

Weyrens became a kind of mentor to the Whites' son, who was just a baby when the Whites moved in next door, but grew up to attend law school and become an attorney.

Living next door to "the judge," White knew well, as did others, of Weyrens' attraction to old cars. As White recalls, Weyrens, who died in May 2018, was fond of driving his Packards to work at the Meeker County Courthouse on a regular basis — even if the practice didn't quite follow legal restriction.

The cars were adorned with collector's plates, which technically permitted them being driven only to and from shows or other collector events, not as regular transportation to work.

One story has it that the judge's propensity pushing the limits of the law in this fashion was brought up to local law enforcement who, White said with a laugh, responded by telling the informant, "I'm not going to pull over the judge!"

True story or not, it was well known that Weyrens enjoyed motoring around and tinkering with old cars. And about two years ago, as his health began to fail, Weyrens "sent this really nice letter," that White saw as encouragement to purchase the 1949 Jeepster that Weyrens had purchased in 2010.

The two eventually struck a deal, with the caveat that Weyrens would continue to store the vehicle while White arranged for storage accommodations in Litchfield. A year later, about a week before White was to pick up the car, Weyrens fell ill and died.

Days before his death, Weyrens took his grandchildren for a ride in the Jeepster, and even though the car now is owned by White, he has left a standing invitation for Weyrens' children and grandchildren to visit any time to enjoy another ride in the car.

In the meantime, White has been doing his research. Among the things he's found:

  • Willys-Overland Motors was the second-largest vehicle manufacturer in the United States in 1948, the result of all of the vehicles — Jeeps — it made for the military.
  • When World War II ended, Willys-Overland attempted to repurpose many of the military Jeep parts for civilian automobiles, the Jeepster being one attempt.
  • With its design similar to the military vehicle, the Jeepster was thought to be a wise move by the company, because soldiers returning home would be familiar with it. However, "guys coming back from World War II didn't want reminders" of the war, and the Jeepster failed to take off.
  • White's 1949 Jeepster is one of 19,000 manufactured by Willys-Overland Motors between 1948 and 1951.

Part of "getting the bug" for White was his joining the Midstates Jeepster Association, a group dedicated to those 19,000 vehicles and their owners. Earlier this spring, White attended the association's spring rally in Pontiac, Illinois, trailering his Jeepster to the event.

"It's fun," White said. "I've tried to keep it (the vehicle) all original ... like Jack said. I enjoy driving it. It's kind of fun, (a car) 70 years old going down the road."

ACGC classes begin with more students than last year

School started early for Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City students this fall, on Aug. 20. The August start did not deter enrollment, as 28 more students registered at ACGC compared to last September. This amounted to a total of 839 students — 310 at the ACGC Elementary in Atwater and 529 at the middle-high school campus in Grove City.

The September 2018 count from the district office had been 305 elementary and 506 middle-high school students, for an 811 total.

The early start was due to the necessity of letting school out two weeks earlier than usual next May, in order to allow time for major renovations of the heating and mechanical systems at both of the district’s buildings during the summer of 2020. The district also plans to install new, more secure main entrances at both campuses.

The enrollment numbers presented by district officials at the Aug. 26 ACGC School Board meeting did not include those children enrolling in the district’s preschool program, also located in the Atwater building, as those classes have not yet begun.

Otherwise, school officials indicated that the students arrived at a well-staffed facility. In personnel matters that evening, no regular teachers needed to be hired. Five contracts for substitute teaching duties were signed with Jeff Tanner, Robin Tanner, Mike Maurer, Theresa Nelson, and Tami Tagtow. Ashley Shriver was hired as a School Age Child Care student worker and Denise Langmo as a SACC paraprofessional assistant.

Three support staff resignations were accepted: from special education paraprofessional Josh Nelson, and from two junior high coaches: Joshua Sorenson (track) and Jeremy Boeyink (girls’ basketball.)

The board also passed a resolution for a Revised Long Term Facilities Maintenance Ten-Year Plan; this included revenue and expenditure projections.

The board also approved applying for a grant from the Minnesota State High School League to help offset student activity fees.