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Attention shoppers: Donna has worked here for 50 years, and is still going strong

An Alberta senior has received a rare 50-years of service badge at an Edmonton Woolco turned Walmart. "A lot of shoppers have been coming here since I've been here," said 77-year-old Donna Batiuk has seen decades of change and said the key to keeping a job is a good attitude.
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Donna Batiuk has been working under the same retail roof in Edmonton since 1971, starting at Capilano Woolco in the shoe department and now in the personnel department at Walmart. She has no plans to retire. Photo: Gary Poignant

Donna Batiuk loves her job.

It's not a surprise after serving customers for more than a half century under the same retail roof – from the Capilano Woolco in 1971 to the Capilano Walmart today.

"I love it here. I always say you have to have a positive attitude," said Batiuk, who received a rare 50-year service badge from Walmart last September.

And a top reason for this staffer’s satisfaction is the customers.

"A lot of shoppers have been coming here since I've been here," said Batiuk, estimating there are at least ten regulars, including an elderly woman named Margaret. "She always comes in on Friday. I love to visit with her."

The store has changed in many ways through the years, but Batiuk says the upbeat interaction with the customers has been a constant.

"It's always a ‘good morning’ and a ‘how are you’ when you see someone,” Batiuk said, admitting the last two years of COVID-19 restrictions have made visits more challenging.

While she has worked in a variety of roles over 50-plus years and is now the store's personnel manager, Batiuk says her five-day-a-week trip to the east Edmonton store is always special.

"They have become my Walmart family," said Batiuk, who was handed a Tim's coffee by a fellow staffer while preparing to have a photo taken. When asked how she takes her coffee, she quipped, "It's a double-double. I need the sugar."

Currently working the early morning shift, Batiuk says she skips breakfast and instead packs a sandwich for a late-morning snack. Admitting the job can become stressful at times, the 77-year-old grandmother says it's always manageable.

"I really enjoy this. I get five weeks of holiday a year," she said, adding though beyond spending time with her own family, she doesn't have many outside interests. "I don't like to travel. I don't like to go for coffee with people or go shopping. I'd rather be here."

When she started at Woolco in the 70s, Batiuk says she had no idea the job would last for almost two-thirds of her life. "I never had any plans. I was married with two young children."

And while she was wearing three-inch heels back then, her footwear changed frequently over the years. Batiuk is wearing top-rated running shoes on the job today.

But what else has changed; what stands out in such a long career in retail? The grand-reopening of the store as a Walmart in 1994 is a favourite moment, said Batiuk, and, of course, Christmas remains a favourite time of year. "Probably because everyone is so cheerful then," she said. Batiuk also enjoys working with the younger generation, she says, impressed with how independent and tech-savvy they are.

Walmart Capilano store manager Bart Caputo, who has worked in retail for more than 40 years, says his long-time employee is a big inspiration for the other 220 team members.

"They all see how special she is," said Caputo.

Data from a recent Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey shows about 25 per cent of those aged 65 to 70 are still working, up from 11 per cent in 2000. Half of older workers, male or female, did so out of necessity, says the survey, but a higher life expectancy, more years of good health and changes in people's financial situations are also cited as reasons for the increase in older workers. Still, about half of older workers take a job to get out of the house, feel useful and enjoy the interactions work can provide. 

So, is retirement on the horizon for the plucky personnel manager? "I'd like to be here for five more years," said Batiuk. "It keeps me young."