Like the handmade quilts and decorations that adorn the walls of the Hickory Stick, a patchwork formed from an owner's dedication, her cheerful employees and enthusiastic customers into a "shopping landmark" four decades in the making.
Hannibal Mayor James Hark chose that descriptor as he read a proclamation honoring Pat Waelder for her business opened in April 1977. Visitors from across the nation join regulars like Tom and Becky program contestants and members of the Piecemakers Quilt Guild to tour the Hickory Stick's four rooms and extensive selection of quilting supplies, yarn, fabric and other items. Waelder recalled dear friends on both sides of the counter, and what it takes to evolve in an ever-changing sales environment.
"Every year, you're going to have to change your store, you're going to have to reinvent it — at least ten percent — because everything changes," she said.
Along with constant evolution, Waelder has found that she can count on seeing the smiling faces of familiar customers along with new visitors from across the nation and Canada. She also looks forward to the morning after announcements for the Tom and Becky contest, when young ambassadors and their loved ones gather outside, eager to find the right materials for their outfits.
And she said she can always rely on steadfast support from community members during times when she and her husband were ill or when one of the area's historic floods hit — Waelder had to move out of the store seven times due to flooding.
"When there's been floods, they're there immediately," she said. "This whole town is here. It's unbelievable."
Members of the Piecemakers Quilt Guild, customers and local dignitaries shared smiles and bouquets of flowers to congratulate Waelder. Nancy DeLaPorte remembered selling advertisements for the Courier-Post when the Hickory Stick opened in 1977. She watched the budding store grow from one room to two — then expanding to the four colorful rooms of today. DeLaPorte said Waelder constantly joins guild members in charitable projects and donates prizes to the group.
In the front room of the store, Marthabel Green, of Barry, Ill., and her daughter, Pam Nation, of rural Pittsfield, Ill., recalled their connection to the store from the early days. Green vividly remembered walking into the store in 1980 with her late husband, noticing a quilt announcing the store's first quilting class in September. That class, followed by a second one, fostered Green's lifelong passion for quilting. Green, who is about to turn 94, pieces her quilts by hand, and she has made four quilts for each of her four children, two quilts for each of her 10 grandchildren and one quilt for each great-grandchild.
Nation and Green said that Waelder and the staff members always treat them like family. When Green's husband passed away, Nation said Waelder came to the funeral to offer her condolences.
"They treat me like royalty," Green said. "If they need a recommendation, they get an 'A 1' from me."
Debbie Turner said her sister-in-law, Debbie Braddy, is a regular customer every time she visits from Centralia, Ill. Turner tells her all the time how lucky she feels to be near her cherished store.
"It's been a family tradition for us," she said.
For 40 years, Waelder has enjoyed being a part of those traditions. She remembers the staff members who started out with her in the beginning: Helen Skeen, Annie Bailey, Gert Howe, Neva Dinwiddie, Bonnie Wright, Norma Blanton and Sara Logsdon, along with help from Pat Steele and Joyce Waldschlager. Today, the family of employees has expanded to include Marla Frame, Pauline McIntosh, Karma Hurst, Diana Jones, Nancy Morris, Judy Haught, Janet Eichenberger, Sally Kiethley, Belinda Ebers, Nancy Henley and Pat Hess.
Waelder said when you open a business, you can expect long hours bundled with high and low periods — but dedication and "a passion for what you what you want to do" make for an extended family and an enduring sense of joy.
"Anybody who knows me knows I love this," she said. "And I'm going to be here. Just because it's been 40 years, I'm not retiring, I'm going to keep on going. I have a great staff, and I have great local customers."
Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org