He might not always venture far from home, but when he does, he goes all in.
Laughter and tears were shed Thursday as Durant Walmart employees said farewell to the man who has devoted two decades to being the store manager.
Mike Snell has been at the helm for 22 years, beginning when Bryan County’s biggest retail business was just a regular ol’ Walmart filling the space where Big Lots and Orscheln now operate. He’s been there through the building of the Supercenter that opened in 2003, a major remodel and most assuredly, plenty of headaches that come with running such a busy corporate property.
“It’s been the greatest treasure of my life,” Snell said.
Snell grew up in Krebs, Okla., which most people who even know where it is associates with the Italian cuisine of Pete’s Place. He was just looking for a summer job when he was hired on for a store remodel in May 1983 at the nearby McAlester Walmart.
Snell’s path through the ranks of Sam Walton’s chain stores took him to Sulphur, Ada and back to McAlester before his first store-manager post in Madill. Then, he became nestled in this Magnolia Capital of Oklahoma.
Snell and wife Nancy, married since May 1982, raised their kids in Durant. Son Tyler now lives in Denver, but daughter Taylor is still here. She came to Thursday’s sendoff and also was emotional as people complimented her father.
“I believe you earn respect; you don’t demand it,” said co-manager Michael Crouse. “I think he’s earned it.
“He has put in a lot of dedication, and he’s going to be missed. It won’t be the same without you, sir.”
The sound around the room was audible agreement.
Co-manager Alice Kerbow said it has been on honor to work with such a terrific guy.
“The women love him and the men want to be him,” she said, inducing chuckles from the crowd.
The laughs grew louder as she pulled out a canvas print featuring a bearded Snell in a claw-foot tub, posed in a style similar to the iconic “most interesting man in the world” ad campaign. Kerbow said he might now be deemed the “most interesting man of Walmart.”
Cecille Kampplain, who has been with Durant Walmart almost as long as Snell and recently was surprised to receive the Over-the-Counter Pharmacy Department Manager of the Year award, presented her longtime boss with a thoughtful gift. She had picked out a key chain engraved with “Pride of 0975.” Kampplain couldn’t help but cry when she explained that’s the store’s corporate number, and department managers close their meeting each morning with a cheer that ends in “975, pride is alive.”
Snell’s last day at the Durant Walmart is April 15 — of course national tax deadline day but also the store employee’s dreaded “inventory day.” He will be leaving the next day for Las Vegas to serve as market manager over 11 stores. Snell said his replacement would be announced likely Monday.
“I wasn’t looking or anything,” said Snell, who was a business major at East Central University at one time and finished his degree a few years ago through Southeastern Oklahoma State University. “This opportunity just fell in my lap.”
“I’ve gotten up and driven the same seven miles to work every day all those years. It will be strange not to do that.”
And, as Crouse pointed out and Snell agreed , it’ll be odd to be going into a different store every day.
“Ultimately, I want to retire back here,” Snell said. “It’s home. For being able to live in a community like Durant for 22 years, it’s a blessing.
“I will miss the faces of every customer who comes in here. You know, some of them are in here two or three times a day or several times a week. And that’s the truth.”
Contact Regina Phillips at (580) 924-4388 ext. 20 or on Twitter @NewspaperRegina.