Career of helping: After 6 decades, man taking time off from store

Sixty-two years seems like a long time to do anything, but not if you’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

That’s why most days you can still find Richard “Doc” Darlage working at Union Hardware Do It Center helping customers with what they need to complete a home project.

“I hope I’ve been helpful to a lot of the employees and customers in the 62 years I’ve worked here,” Darlage said Saturday at the store in downtown Seymour.

Darlage started working at Union Hardware in May of 1955 when it originally occupied a single store front on the west side of Chestnut Street, just north of Tipton Street.

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“I went in and asked if they had a job I could have and I started work after school the next day,” said Darlage, who graduated from Shields High School that year.

Darlage started as a sales clerk, but the job was much different back then.

The store had a large wall full of drawers that could be pulled out from the front or the back. Stockers would fill each drawer with stock from the back. As customers came in, they would ask for the parts or tools they needed and the clerk would remove the items from the front and ring up the order.

The store would be closed Wednesdays as were many stores in Seymour and other communities at that time. Employees would stock and organize the shop on Wednesdays, so people could always come to the back door if they had an emergency and needed an order filled, he said.

In his early days at the store, Darlage would load a pickup truck with bats and shoes and travel around to the country schools to see if players or parents wanted to purchase sporting supplies.

Something that hasn’t changed in all the years is people coming into the store with questions and employees needing to be ready with the answers, Darlage said.

“You learned how to fix a lot of stuff,” he said.  That might be learning how to fix a water heater or finding the tools to make an obscure repair.

And that was one of the things Darlage said he has really enjoyed about the job — helping people and learning the answers to these questions.

“I lived on a farm and a lot of the stuff was farm related, so I knew some of it and learned other things,” Darlage said.

Although he later became a store manager, Darlage said his real passion and the thing that kept him going at one place for so many years was pride in his work and helping people.

“It’s very gratifying when someone comes in and says ‘you helped me with my last project, now I got another one,'” he said. “That’s something you always remember.”

There has been a hardware store at 116 S. Chestnut St. since 1862, when it was known as Love and Poulson Hardware Co. The building has twice been destroyed by fire — the first time on July 24, 1911, and the second in February of 1961.

Darlage told the Tribune in 2004, he remembered the second fire well.

“I was eating supper and they called on the phone to say it was on fire,” he said. Darlage helped set up a temporary location across the street and also was heavily involved in setting up the new store, once it was rebuilt.

He said the good bosses and other employees he has worked with over the years are another reason he has enjoyed the job.

But he didn’t know in 1955 that the after-school job would evolve into a six-decades long career.

“I enjoyed my job and didn’t see anywhere else I wanted to work more,” he said.

The job was and still is a large part of Darlage’s life.

He married Marilyn Rieckers three years after going to work at Union Hardware and over the course of the next eight years, they would have four children. Some of his children would wind up working part time with “Doc” at Union Hardware along with two of their spouses and even his grandchildren.

“I’ve had several people, not just my children, tell me that it’s a good learning experience for them later in life,” Darlage said. “They learned how to do things they might not have otherwise known.”

Although Darlage is slowing down as he nears his 80th birthday on March 19, he still plans to show up at the hardware store some days for work.

“What else would I do,” he said.

But he also has several different things he plans on doing a little more often.

One is spending time with his five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“I might still work here every now and then, and I’ll probably try to help my son-in-law at Darlage Custom Meats,” Darlage said.

“I need to sit down more often and take naps,” he added jokingly.

Darlage and his wife are members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Sauers and also are members of several card clubs. At one point, the couple were a part of the Brownstown Western Twirlers dance group.

In addition to these activities, Darlage has worked with Dudleytown Conservation Club.

He said he wants to spend more time helping family and friends.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Richard “Doc” Darlage” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Age: 79

Occupation: Store manager

Where: Union Hardware, 116 S. Chestnut St., Seymour

Family: Wife Marilyn; children, Gary Darlage, Terry Darlage, Sharon (Mick) Reedy and Brenda (Scott) Thomas); five grandchildren, Ryan (Alicia) Reedy, Kelly Reedy, Tyler Reedy, Clint Thomas and Cory Thomas.