Main Street's "Octomanagers": In Their 80s and Still Going Strong

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In this era of ageism and its negative effects on older Americans—particularly in the workplace—it is refreshing and a comfort to see that Main Street programs, at least on the local level, have an “open door” policy for those in the senior ranks.

Older individuals applying for Main Street manager positions are being hired, and those who entered the Main Street workforce in their younger days are being kept in their positions as they age—appreciated as seasoned employees with life and work experiences that make them well suited for the job at hand.

By the way, we are not only talking about local managers who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Main Street is replete with those kiddos. Recently, some fine examples of senior managers in their 80s came to us from Main Street programs in Mississippi, Iowa, and California.

Glen Houston, Aberdeen, Mississippi

Contributed by Jeannie Waller, Mississippi Main Street

GHouston_THUMBNAIL_4-8-13The first “octomanager” we want to highlight is an 87-year-old, who is running the heck out of her Main Street program in Aberdeen, Mississippi, a rural community with a population of 5,500. Glen Houston wears many hats in her community—nurse, gardener, preservationist, developer, wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. But on most days, this octogenarian can be found walking downtown streets in her in a wide-brimmed hat as she goes from store to store helping business owners with whatever they need that day.

Houston has been behind Aberdeen’s downtown revitalization efforts since she got the idea of forming a Main Street program in 1991 and rallied support for her cause. When Mississippi Main Street designated the program in 1993, Houston took the reins as director of the organization.

Many Main Street projects have occurred under Houston’s direction, but she is most proud of a couple of major accomplishments: the downtown’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and the Main Street program’s partnership with Save Aberdeen Landmarks to restore and rehab the Kimmel building, which now houses three upper-floor apartments, a bakery, and a beauty shop.

Houston was also instrumental in working with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to have Aberdeen named a Certified Local Government, and she has served on the state’s Economic Development Advisory Council.

Houston admits the job of Main Street director is not always easy, and she has to work around different situations that sometimes hinder the progress in downtown. She is quick to credit the passionate people who have the same concern for downtown as she does and who help with the challenges. “I was a school nurse for years, so I know everyone,” says Houston. “They are all grown now. I know … what they have to offer and that helps me with getting the job done. I owe my success to all the people who have been involved all these years and who care about Aberdeen.”

Due to her dedication, the Mississippi Main Street Association has recognized Aberdeen Main Street for its accomplishments, and the coordinating program has sent many new managers to Houston for training.

When asked what makes a good Main Street manager, Houston says, “Concern and working with your retail merchants. You have to have something to do when you get up in the morning and feel a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, everyday. That’s why I do what I do. It is never ending.”

Bob Rose, Spencer, Iowa

Contributed by Terry Poe Buschkamp

BRose_THUMBNAIL_4-8-13Our second “octomanager” story comes to us from Spencer, Iowa, (population 11,000) in the person of Bob Rose, who just celebrated his 80th birthday and continues to go strong as his community’s Main Street program director.

Rose grew up on a dairy farm and graduated from high school in 1950. Not long after his marriage in 1952, Rose joined the Army where he became an expert marksman and a member of the All Army Pistol Team. In 1955, he and his wife, Kayleen, moved to Spencer where Rose became a route salesman for a bread company. In 1968, he joined the family retail furniture business where he worked until 1992, when he was asked to become the part-time manager of Spencer Main Street—on an interim basis. “After about a month, I decided that being a manager was fun” says Rose. “I informed the board that, if they would have me, I would like to do it full time. And it’s still fun!”

For the last 20 years, with Kayleen working at his side, Rose has grown the Spencer Main Street program in both scope and impact. From 1998 to 2012, Rose served in a dual role as both Chamber and Main Street director, and in 2006 he was recognized as the “Chamber Director of the Year” by the State Chamber of Commerce Association.

In 2000, Rose graduated from the National Main Street Center’s Certification Institute and is proud to be recognized as a Certified Main Street Manager. He is equally pleased with an honor bestowed on his community that same year by Main Street Iowa. Spencer was given the “Spirit of Main Street Award,” which recognizes the person, organization, or project that best embodies the meaning and spirit of “Main Street at work.”

Apart from his Main Street job, Rose spends much of his time volunteering in local community activities. Most weekends, he can be found on the “chain-gang” at high school football games, announcing basketball games, or as a timer or starter at track meets. He is also active in Rotary, Northwest Amateur Golf Tournament, Spencer Family YMCA, Northwest Aging Association, and the list goes on and on.

When asked what keeps him on the job now that he’s an octogenarian, Rose quips, “It sure as hell beats the alternative! I still look forward to going to work. There are days when it’s not quite as much fun as others. Climbing ladders and hauling tables isn’t as easy as it used to be, but I am blessed to work with boards and committees that allow me to do my job. I’ll keep doing this until I get it right!”

Norma Moye, Paso Robles, California

Contributed by Laura Cole-Rowe CMSM

NMoye_THUMBNAIL_4-8-13Norma Moye, Main Street manager in Paso Robles, California, a community with a population of 30,000, is just shy of her 80th birthday which comes on July 2nd. When you walk into Moye’s Main Street office, you’ll see lots of memorabilia—posters from past events, pictures of historic buildings, and artifacts from the past. But don’t you dare call Moye a relic!
   
Known for her tenacity in getting things done, her feistiness, her warm relationship with volunteers—and her crazy hats!— Norma was born in Paso Robles in 1933, is a fourth-generation Paso Roblean, and has lived there all of her life

Moye grew up on a local farm, and both her parents and grandparents owned businesses in Paso Robles. She worked in retail, a controller’s office, and sold real estate—past employment experiences that prepared her for becoming a Main Street manager.

Moye’s Main Street office wall is filled with local and statewide recognition awards, as well as Paso Robles Main Street’s prestigious national 2004 Great American Main Street Award. But, more visible than the awards is the birthday present Moye received from the Paso Robles city council—the renaming of the alleyway where the Paso Robles Man Street office is located to “Norma’s Way.” This play on words means, according to Moye, “It’s Norma’s way or the highway.”

In the time that Moye has been leading the Paso Robles Main Street program, the community has seen the downtown transition from bars, to junk stores, to antique shops, to culinary and dining establishments. “Now we have a lot of restaurants, retail centered on food, and wine tasting venues,” says Moye. And we’re looking forward to breweries opening soon,”

All this change has not come about without major challenges. The worst occurred on December 23, 2003, when the 6.5 San Simeon Earthquake struck only 24 miles from Paso Robles, severely damaging the downtown, collapsing the historic Acorn Building, and killing two women. About 80 other downtown buildings suffered extensive damage. After the earthquake, Paso Robles Main Street launched an immediate recovery program to assist business and property owners and protect many historic buildings.

Moye doesn’t like to take credit for the success of the program. “Nothing is impossible,” she says, “if you put your mind to it. I’m surrounded by more than 200 volunteers and a great staff—very wonderful and talented people.”

She has no plans to retire anytime soon. As Moye succinctly put it, “My grandmother used to say if you park your car in the garage, the battery goes dead. Keep moving.”

This expression is one that we are sure the other two octogenarians featured in this article would heartily endorse.

If there are other octomanagers out there in the wide world of Main Street, we want to hear your story. Send your story to us at mainstreet@savingplaces.org