By Frank J. Buchman
Service of one of the most recognized and the longest tenured employee at the Emporia farm store is climaxing.
Concluding more than 44 years working at Bluestem Farm & Ranch Supply, Bruce Burenheide will retire on June 25th.
“It’s been a great place to work for a family business always caring for their employees and customers,” Burenheide said. “It was a difficult decision, but I decided now was the time. I’ll miss the others I work with and serving the customers who are my friends from such a wide area.”
Growing up at Olpe, Burenheide helped on his family’s small farming operation and worked for other area farmers. “I also worked at the Olpe locker plant and Crown S Farms so I had diverse experiences,” he said.
Graduating from high school in 1974, Burenheide attended Emporia State University majoring in business administration and psychology. “I started to work for Bluestem part time during college and then went to work fulltime when I graduated in 1978,” Bruce remembered.
Already at its present location on West Highway 50 when Bruce started, Bluestem Farm & Ranch Supply opened in 1961.
“Lee Nelson, farmer, implement dealer and former county agent, had a location on Commercial Street downtown,” Bruce said. “Lee expanded Bluestem to new facilities here in 1968. He was always a hands-on boss who knew his employees and his customers and took care of them all.”
Serving customers “on the floor” early in his career, Bruce worked in sporting goods, later tools and then paints departments. “I’ve done about everything there is at Bluestem one time or another moving up to the main office,” he said.
As the buyer manager for 25 years, Bruce assists in all phases of the business with many diverse duties. “I’m buyer for the three departments of the store that I worked in and help wherever else I can,” he said.
Handling much of the advertising and promotions for Bluestem, Bruce gets called upon to interview and hire new employees. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of good people throughout the years,” he said. “A number of our employees have farm backgrounds which is an asset to work here.”
Part time help is important to make sure there’s a fulltime staff to serve customers. “Because I started working here during college, I have a soft spot for students who need a job,” he admitted. “Several employees worked here during and after college, and then their sons have been employees too.”
Long tenure working at Bluestem is common because it’s such a family operation. “We’re now in the third generation of Lee Nelson’s family owning and operating the store,” Bruce said. “They’re all different but have followed Lee’s philosophy of concern for employees and customers.”
Next in line of seniority at Bluestem now is Lonnie Standiferd, the store manager who’s worked there 37 years. “We have about 85 employees now, down from nearly a hundred as we’ve tried to become more efficient,” Bruce said.
There’ve been three major facility expansions at Bluestem in Bruce’s career. “Customers wanted more and different merchandize, so we added on in order to accommodate them,” he said
Common opinion in a wide area of farm country, “if you need it, Bluestem’s got it,” and that is normally true. “We have more than 155,000 items for sale and keep adding more,” Bruce said. “If somebody needs a special item or part, we generally have it, or will be able to get what they want.
“Although Lee started this as a farm store, our customers now come from all walks of life, There are a few things we don’t handle, but not really very many,’’ Bruce said.
While working at Bluestem, Bruce has maintained small farm operations and helped sometimes at his wife’s H&R Block tax service. “Sheila (Combes) and I’ve been married 46 years, and raised two children,” Bruce said. “We’ve kept busy going to their activities and now with 11 grandchildren keep on going.”
Changes have been constant in Bruce’s 44 years at Bluestem. “Oh, we have more, different and advanced merchandize,” Bruce said. “But technology is the biggest transition I’ve seen and it keeps getting updated all of the time,”
Recent days, Bruce has been turning his four-decades-long Bluestem knowledge and experience over to fellow employees. “There’s a lot to tell everybody about and there’ll surely be many more things come up. I told them I was always ready to help if they give me a call,” Bruce said.
Anticipating retirement, Bruce will have more time for the pastimes developed through the decades. “I have a new shop to work on my collector pickups that we take to shows around the area,” he said. “We like to fish and have a new pond stocked and will visit our regular fishing holes more often. We have been to Alaska fishing several times and want to do more of that.”
Working at his wife’s tax business during his Bluestem vacations for a number of years, Bruce will be called into that office more now. “Sheila has worked for H&R Block about 25 years, and owned the local franchise about 20 years,” Bruce said. “I will probably work there fulltime during the spring tax season.”
After what is now an unusually long career serving one place of business, Bruce repeated: “I will miss the people. That’s been the best part of the job helping a customer find what they wanted, fixing their problems. I will really miss that and those who I’ve worked with so many years.”
Bruce Burenheide has worked at Bluestem Farm & Ranch Supply in Emporia 44 years. As the longest tenured employee there, Burenheide will retire on June 25th. Bluestem Farm & Ranch Supply opened in 1961 on Commercial Street in Emporia and has been at the present location on West Highway 50 since 1968