Carlson, Thole celebrate major Fareway milestones

Red Oak Fareway store director Kerry Carlson and meat department manager Allan “Al” Thole are celebrating decades of service with the store chain.
This year marks Carlson’s 40th year with the company, while Thole has been with them for 31 years and will celebrate 32 years of service in October. Carlson said he started working in a supermarket when he was in his teens.
“I started working popping popcorn at Hunt’s Super Valu when I was 13 years old. I worked on Saturday mornings. Claude Smith was the assistant manager there. My brother worked there also, and Claude asked my brother about me coming in and popping the popcorn,” Carlson said. “After that, I worked up into a carry-out job, and then went to high school and worked at Hy-Vee throughout my high school career. When I got out of school I would open on Sunday mornings and I was the swing man, the person in charge. It was fun, and they gave me regular time there.”
Carlson said he stepped away from the job to aid his brother, who had gone into mechanical construction.
“He was in Denver, and he needed help. I took a leave of absence and went out there to help him. That was completely different than carting groceries around, I can tell you. I did that for awhile and then we moved back to the Iowa area,” commented Carlson.
When he got back, Carlson said that was when he made the transition to Fareway, starting in the meat department.
“I discovered Hy-Vee wasn’t going to reinstate me as I had left, so with Fareway around in 1984, I started with Fareway. I married my wife Elaine in September of 1988, and then in October we started our transfer game,” explained Carlson. “We transferred from here six hours away to Maquoketa. Then I transferred to Le Mars, and Al Thole came through there too. I got my first assistant manager position in Eagle Grove, then I had my second assistant manager position in North Liberty. I was then named manager of the Burlington Store.”
It was after that Carlson said circumstances arose that saw him moving back more locally.
“We encountered some health problems with family, so we made our way back this way. Greenfield opened up, so I was there for about six years, and then Fareway in Red Oak, our hometown base opened up, and I was able to come back here. It’s been very good. The time goes quick. It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years,” stated Carlson.
According to Carlson, the people he’s able to serve are the things he finds most rewarding about his Fareway career.
“I love people, and I love being able to help people. Even though I’m 40 years in, I’m still learning stuff. I think that’s great that I can still learn something new. It’s very rewarding to serve and be able to take care of our customers,” Carlson said.
For the most part, Carlson said he’s been able to retain much of his original crew, and said they stay for the long haul. Even the kids who go off to college pick up shifts at Fareway in the college towns they’re in, and work back in Red Oak on their breaks.
As with everyone, Carlson said the COVID-19 pandemic was an interesting time, as the store was an essential service and people had to be here.
“Thankfully Al and I didn’t get COVID until after the pandemic was over. Also, it changed the schematic of the grocery industry. Availability was always in question, and we never knew with each order what was going to be there. I had some days where I had people lined up outside the door getting portions of one case of toilet paper. It was a game changer. We still feel the effect. I hate beating the COVID drum but it’s still out there. Some of the private label stuff has been falling away. But even though it was a lot of hours and a lot of stress, we still enjoyed what we were doing,” advised Carlson. “I don’t care to go through it ever again, but it was very interesting.”
Carlson said he’s moved eight times with the company, and he and his family have built many lasting relationships.
“Our kids know people all around the state as much as we do. They have made nice relationships to gather and keep in touch with. When we did the post about my 40 years on Facebook, a lot of those communities reached out to congratulate me. I also strive to maintain our customer service and make sure we can get what we need to for them,” Calrson said. “It’s been wonderful to be back home and meet new friends of Red Oak, as well as old friends we knew from years ago.”
Carlson also wanted to extend a special appreciation to God and to his family.
‘I’m thankful for my wife and kids and their support. That system was always there for me. When I got into the manager role, it took a lot of time and there were a lot of hours put in. In Burlington, it was a new store, and I was doing some 100 hour weeks. I’m very thankful for the love and support they always gave me,” Carlson said.
As for Thole, he lamented that he didn’t start with Fareway as early as Carlson, but wished he had.
“I went to college and worked for a little business where I went to places and set up boxes of candy for them. I went to Fareway in Manchester when I was about 25 and the guy didn’t have a spot, but there was a spot in the meat department. So I started there two weeks later after I gave my other job notice. From there I went to Sioux City. I actually got lost on the way and ended up in Nebraska. Eventually I found the store and worked there for about two years.”
Thole said he met many great people and got involved in softball leagues, playing in places such as Las Vegas. He was later transferred to Marshaltown, and LeMars as an assistant meat manager before coming to Red Oak as an assistant manager.
“I worked as an assistant manager for two years in Red Oak before I got a call from the boss asking if I would like to manage the meat counter in Red Oak. I said I’d love to, so I became the manager here in 2004.
Thole said he’s met a lot of great people throughout his Fareway career, people that he considers family.
“I don’t have a lot of family around here, so the people I work with here are my family. I’ve met a lot of new people here. I’m in softball leagues here, and I still bowl. I was in four bowling leagues a week here at one point. Just like Kerry gets involved with other organizations, I help the Cattlemen and the Optimists, and we do the flight breakfast. It’s a great community,” Thole commented. “I’ve got a great young crew. We all get together, and I bowl with a couple guys and go to shooting ranges with other guys.  I try to take my guys out to lunch or breakfast on Sundays as well.”
Much like Carlson, Thole said he most enjoys being able to provide customer service to the area.
“I love meeting and greeting people and working with the crew and everyone else in the store,” Thole commented.
While the meat department also felt some COVID effects, Thole said they weren’t as bad as they could have been.
“We had some shortages on packaged stuff, but we didn’t run out of hardly anything. I was really busy, but you had to make it fun. I never got COVID but some of my employees did, and you had to work extra hard when you were short people,” Thole said.
Thole said he’s been blessed to work with a lot of people. Some who have come and gone, but he’s pleased that they either still work for the company, or still shop with Fareway.
“This is my home now. I do have family in eastenr Iowa, but it’s only about six hours away. I still get back to see them or we can meet halfway. Most of the times, I go there,” joked Thole.


The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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