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Jim Hamblin

Jim Hamblin says farewell to Country Mart after more than 30 years with the company. 

When you are part of building an empire, can you ever say goodbye? Jim Hamblin is trying to do just that as he enters retirement.

Hamblin worked alongside Bob Hufford for 30 years to build Country Mart into the 37-store company it is today. 

"When I came with Bob in 1988 I think we had 33 stores and we got up to 45 stores in the 30 years I was with him," Hamblin said. "The pure growth there was unbelievable."

Hamblin said he began his career as a carry-out boy at Consumers Market in Springfield. He continued to live and raise his family there.

"I applied for a job with him (Hufford)," Hamblin said. "I was close to broke. I wasn't broke, but I was close to it, so then I called Bob." 

Hamblin said the duo had worked together at Consumers Market years before and had connections through the wholesaler.

Hamblin began working for the company in 1988 in Dexter, but as the company blossomed Hufford decided he needed Hamblin closer to the Fredericktown store so Hamblin moved to Farmington. 

While Hamblin worked for Hufford, he said he was more than a boss.

"Bob has treated me unbelievable," Hamblin said. "Bob was my boss, but he was also my very best friend and that doesn't happen very often when your best friend is your boss."

Hamblin said the two had a relationship where they could disagree with each other, but that they never left the work place mad at each other.

"Bob always said the thing he liked the most about me was I'd say 'no,'" Hamblin said. "He'd say 'I've got a lot of yes guys and you're the only no guy I've got and I appreciate that.'"

That honest and straight forward mindset left Hamblin in a few situations over the years that he would later find had a huge impact on the people around him.

"I got a lot of cards in the past two weeks, a bunch of them made me cry," Hamblin said. "The impact I had on people that I didn't even realize."

Hamblin said one of the cards he received was from a woman that said "you probably don't remember me, but you made me cry."

"No, I didn't remember but she said 'well I didn't cry a lot, I had tears in my eyes but when I went to the car I bawled,'" Hamblin said. "I told her that she wasn't doing her job and I wasn't going to do it for her."

Hamblin said it sounded like something he would have said and was happy to hear the woman say that his words helped motivate her and she was recently promoted.

"She said 'well I went home and I really cried that night. I woke up the next morning and I said he's right and I started doing my job, and I got promoted because of you," Hamblin said. 

Hamblin said the woman thanked him for even though he made her cry it was worth it because she needed to hear it.

"I literally got thousands of cards like that," Hamblin said. "I've been in business long enough, and I never like to see girls cry."

Hamblin recalled one instance with a checker named Carol who was taking longer than some of her peers.

"I pulled her into the office to tell her she wasn't doing a very good job checking, and she started to cry," Hamblin said. "She was a grandma, and I thought to myself you can't make a grandma cry. Grandmas are special people, and there are no bad grandmas."

Hamblin said he went home and told his wife Virginia about the incident and said, "I don't think you can get into heaven if you make a grandma cry."

"What she was doing was very simple when I would bring her out a roll of quarters or pennies she would count every one of them," Hamblin said. "Well the customers standing in line didn't like that, because they wanted to be checked out.

Hamblin said he explained it to her and she said she understood but that she had been checking since before he was born.

"That was an absolute fact," Hamblin said. "She'd been in the business and I'm telling her she doesn't know what to do when she's been doing this since before I was born. You live and learn and I got to become very good friends with her."

Hamblin said what he will miss the most is the people and the relationships he has made with fellow staff members and vendors.

"We just had a managers meeting, my last one," Hamblin said. "They were all there, and we realized there were some that I have known for 30 years, and I'll probably never see them again and that's sad."

While he is looking forward to retirement and said he knows it is the right time, this part was emotional for Hamblin. He said he knows he is going to miss everyone.

Hamblin's plans for the future will be filled with dance recitals, school plays and sporting events as him and his wife Virginia plan their move to Olathe, Kansas to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.

"Max is my pride and joy," Hamblin said. "My daughter was 42 when she had Max 123 days early, cost somewhere between 5 and 7 million dollars and he died 5 times. He had nine operations and now he is eight years old."

Hamblin said if it were not for the kindness of a stranger donating her breast milk, Max would not have survived his premature birth.

Max's story helped to show Hamblin, his whole family and the world how important life, family and every precious moment is.

"It has been unbelievable to see all the changes the company has gone through over the years," Hamblin said. "I'm ready to retire and I'm anxious to retire, but I'm going to miss everyone."

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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