The Paint Lady
Many people have come and gone and shopping has changed drastically since Walmart came to Steele County back in 1986. But one thing that remained consistent for all those years up until the end of 2019 was Denise Wieman, who became affectionately known as Walmart’s Paint Lady.
After 33 years as a full-time associate at Walmart, Wieman, of Owatonna, has retired to explore retirement life with her husband, Carl, who retired a few years ago. Wieman, who left as department manager of hardware and paint and worked the day shift Monday through Friday, was one of two originals that has been at the store since it opened in Owatonna in October 1986. It was the same year that she and her husband moved to Owatonna from Mankato. Mary Klemmensen is the only other original left at the local store.
“It’s a good thing, now I can catch up on my sleep,” Wieman said about hanging it up. She noted the month of December prior to the holidays is especially stressful in the retail environment. She worked every weekend throughout December.
Wieman admits she never envisioned staying at Walmart as long as she did. But, contrary to what many people have been led to believe about the giant retailer, Wieman found herself just fine and content with what Walmart had to offer. By the end, she had almost eight weeks of vacation, 10% employee discount, 401K savings and stock benefits. “They do treat their people good for retail,” her husband Carl commented.
Throughout her career with Walmart, Wieman underwent many big changes. She has worked in two locations. The original store was located where the Owatonna Fitness Center operates along Hoffman Drive. “There were a lot of changes moving to the super center,” she recalls. “We had to do all the shelving.”
One thing Wieman prides herself on is the work ethic she brought to the job over the years. She learned the value of hard work by growing up on a dairy and hog farm near Gaylord, Minn. “My dad didn’t have any boys to do the farm work so we had to work hard,” she said, noting she had two sisters to help with the farm chores. “I was out in the field and would come home totally dirty. I was up in the hay barn lifting bales when it was 100 degrees out. You had to work.”
Along with a strong work ethic, Wieman also offered Walmart longevity. “I have that will power that I stick at something for a long time,” she says. And she showed up for work, a far cry from what she often sees in today’s younger workers. “Some can’t even make a month without being gone for three or four days,” she said. “They take off because they feel like it. I wasn’t brought up that way.”
Walmart is often viewed as a big machine where nobody cares. But that wasn’t the case with Wieman.
Friendliness and customer service are two things that Wieman focused on throughout her career with Walmart. By offering customers those traits, she built a level of trust with them. “I made sure that I answered all the questions and made them feel welcomed,” she said of her customers. She lamented how talking to customers was her favorite aspect of the job. It was something that customers enjoyed as she said they would often seek her out in the store for help. “Even when I was shopping, people would ask me for help,” she added.
Known as the Paint Lady, Wieman developed quite a following. She said there were local painters who would leave the store if she wasn’t around and come back again. “They knew it would be done correctly with me,” she said.
Her husband joked that he always said he would put “Paint Lady” on her tombstone.
Wieman also tried to go the extra mile for her customers. If Walmart didn’t have something in stock, she and her husband would often travel to stores in other cities to pick up items to bring back to the Owatonna store. “You build up the trust with customers so they keep coming back,” she said.
The Wiemans plan to do some traveling now that they are both retired. This month they are going to Australia. They plan to spend time with their grandchildren.
Volunteer work is also important to the Wiemans. They are involved with the annual Multiple Sclerosis River Road Run in August. Over the past 18 years, they have successfully collected $70,000 for MS.
Wieman also has a few hobbies on deck for retirement. They include stained glass, quilting and refurbishing furniture.
With a new phase of life setting in for Wieman, she says the hardest part will be being away from the people she came to know at Walmart. “I don’t miss the early mornings and weekends, but I miss the people,” she said.
As for retirement, Wieman had this to say, “Now I really feel old.”
But, she quickly added, she is ready to enjoy the next chapter in her life.