MT. PLEASANT — Deb Stookesberry still remembers the grand opening of the Walmart Distribution Center in Mt. Pleasant even 35 years down the line.
Stookesberry, now the traffic manager for the facility, was on the committee that planned the event which took place in front of the building where she still works.
“It was right out here in the parking lot, which was a little smaller than what it is now, just everybody coming in,” she recalled.
Visitors that day included Walmart founders Sam and James Walton, Sen. Chuck Grassley and then Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who all signed a guest log that sits framed in the center’s offices.
The distribution center, the only one located in Iowa and one of several to have made it to 35 years, is celebrating the milestone throughout the month of September.
General Manager Michael Patten said the facility is one of the first established in the Midwest and “one of the most historical” within the company.
“This is one of the few buildings that [founder] Sam Walton visited and helped scout the site. He met with key business leaders back in the day,” he said.
The facility had originally planned a daylong celebration with an open house for the community and a family and friends barbecue before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“It’s been challenging to celebrate in a COVID world,” Patten said.
The facility explored several alternative options including celebrating the following year but ultimately decided to move ahead with plans.
“It’s too big of a deal for me to just postpone and do it next year. I wasn’t going to let COVID win,” the general manager added.
While opening up the celebration to the broader community is no longer an option, the facility is instead taking an entire month to celebrate internally with small daily activities like games, friendly competitions and food.
The celebration honors and highlights the work of the approximately 600 employees of the center, a handful of whom have been with the facility since the very beginning like Stookesberry.
The traffic manager, who began in 1985 as an hourly shipping clerk right out of high school, said the main reasons she has stayed with the job “is the people and the changes.”
“I always had people here who pushed me to do a little bit more than I thought I could,” she said. Stookesberry worked her way up to a supervisor position before again being encouraged to “take another step.”
“The company did well by me … And the people here, they get to be kind of like family. Not everybody wants to come to work all the time, but I always enjoyed what I did, and I always found it challenging,” she said.
Rick Mellinger, the facility’s operations manager who has been with the company nearly 31 years, echoed Stookesberry’s comments about the company’s attitude about taking care of each other.
“The company has been really good to me and my family. Through thick and thin, good and bad, they’ve been here for my family,” he said.
Mellinger started as an associate on the facility’s floor and “slowly worked [his] way up” with the support of company leadership.
“That’s what it’s really about — family taking care of each other. It’s not all about making sure that the cases get out there. Obviously that’s important, but a lot of it is taking care of associates and actually any of us, if any of us need help, someone is always there,” he said.
The operations manager recently won the Helen R. Walton Award for his extensive community service, a recognition given to two Walmart employees across the entirety of the company.
As recipient of the award, Mellinger chose local charity Operation Christmas Child to receive a $1,000 donation. The facility will be making gift boxes to be donated to the charity with items brought in by employees.
“It’s about helping those who need it,” Mellinger said. “It’s awesome knowing I have the company’s support.”
Giving back to the community continues to be a major initiative Patten intends to focus on.
“As one of the largest employers in Mt. Pleasant, I sort of see it as a given to give back to the community,” the general manager said, including from an economic standpoint.
“We’ve been a stable provider of good jobs with competitive pay. I think that’s why we have so many employees who have been with the company 20-plus years,” he said.
Although the center wasn’t quite able to celebrate their 35th anniversary in the way it hoped, Patten said he’s certain the facility will continue to grow and celebrate other milestones.
“This place is like a diamond in the rough … It’s a community and culture that really rallies together, so yeah, I see this building continue to churn out leaders and develop,” he said.