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A half century together, at home and at work

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Jerry Maushard laughs when he talks about the time he met Sam Walton and was offered a job that would have put him on the ground floor of the Walmart chain. He evens chuckles when he talks about the fortune that got away when he turned down that job.

But he also is the first to admit he would not trade the riches he has right here in his hometown of Peoria  for any of what the Waltons had to offer nearly half a century ago.

That includes spending all day, every day – literally -- of the last 45 years with love of his life, Janie.

“Side by side for more than 40 years, every day,” said Jerry from the business he and Janie own, Central Fixture in Peoria. The store, which sells about every kind of lighting fixture one can imagine from its location at 215. W. McClure, has been in the Maushard family since Jerry’s grandfather Joe Maushard opened it in 1898.

Jerry and Janie Maushard celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday, June 4. That alone is a wonderful thing, but it is even more remarkable given they have worked side-by-side almost every day  since Jerry was lured back home by his father to take over the family business in 1971. “We’d just bought a home in Denver when Dad called and asked me to come back. Well, we did. And I don’t regret one minute of it,” Jerry said.

Jerry and Janie met in Wichita, Kansas, her hometown, in 1965. Janie was working at a variety store called TG&Y when a man in a suit walked in carrying a briefcase “and strutting like he really thought he was something. At least that was my first impression on him. He announced he was the new manager of the store and I just didn’t know if I was going to like him very much. Well, after I got to know him I saw he wasn’t really like that,” she said.

After they’d been working together for a year Jerry finally asked Janie for a date. Well, sort of. The way he tells it: “I realized I wasn’t getting any younger and so I looked at her and said, ‘You know, I need a wife. Want to go out?’”

They were married six months later.

From there they moved quite a bit as TG&Y – which Janie said everybody referred to as Turtles, Girdles and YoYos – had Jerry open new stores throughout the region around Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado.

It was at the store in Sapula, Oklahoma that he met Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. “He came in and introduced himself and offered me a job in management. He knew quite a bit about me, even how much I was making. I told him I needed to think about it and discuss it with my wife. He said that was fine, that he’d come back. And he did, about two weeks later. But I declined the offer. We had a good thing with TG&Y, which of course isn’t around anymore,” Jerry said.

It was the late 1960s then, shortly before Jerry and Janie moved to Denver. At the time Sam Walton couldn’t pay his managers annual bonuses and instead gave them shares of stock. Since then, of course, Walmart became publicly traded and those early shares of stock are worth millions.

The return to Peoria for Jerry meant coming home. For Janie, it was just another move at that time. “Wichita was where I grew up but we moved six months after we were married and moved quite a bit until we came to Peoria. But I love it here. This is home,” she said.

When Jerry first started at Central Fixture it was located on Main Street, near the intersection with Glen Oak. The store burned down in 1975 because of an electrical problem and was reopened in only a matters of months at the current location. It was then that Janie started working there full-time.

“I came to help get the store up and running after the fire. I never left,” she said.

Said Jerry, “Oh sometimes we fuss at each other when we disagree about something, but we don’t fight. And a lot of times the fussing is just in fun.”

At the end of the day, they go home together. “When we go home, if he’s been good all day I’ll make dinner for him,” Janie said with a laugh. “Other than that, we do our own thing at home. That may be in separate rooms. But we get along just fine.”

Jerry said one thing that has helped has been their ability to get away from work and home pressures to a “small place on a lake” that they own in northern Wisconsin. “We’ve had it for 28 years and it has been a nice place to go and get away,” he said.

Added Janie: “We’re pretty simple and our place up there is like that. We enjoy the four seasons so it’s a nice place to see that,” she said.

Jerry is 77 and Janie is 69, but they have no immediate plans to retire. Daughter Barbara lives in Connecticut and works in New York City as head of the television division for the Hearst. Son Jerry works for Central Fixture, the fourth generation in the family business.

“My Dad worked here into his late 80s and after that we’d bring him in with us. He was our ambassador. He lived until he was 98. I haven’t had sense enough to retire, or at least my wife won’t let me, so I figure we’ll be here as long as our health will let us,” Jerry said.

“Life has been pretty good to us.”

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).