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'I can't imagine working any other place'

  • Irene Strombom counts change for a purchase while working at Lark Drugs in Guerneville on Thursday, March 21, 2013. Strombom is retiring after working at the store for over 65 years. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

In Guerneville, only ol' man river is a more constant and admired presence than the steady, playful lady who's worked at downtown's Lark Drugs longer than anyone can remember.

It was 1947 when Irene Strombom, then 25, landed a summer job at the predecessor to Lark. That means she has worked at the Main Street pharmacy for a few months shy of 66 years.

"It's gone awful fast," she said with a smile and mild shake of her head. It doesn't seem all that long ago to her that a summer weekend would bring in a fair number of women tourists seeking something for covering up on Sunday morning.

Irene Strombom

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"They wanted to get to church and they needed to get scarves for their heads," she said. "We sold a lot of scarves."

The drugstore was also a hot spot for folks to pick up something to read while soaking up the rays on Johnson's Beach.

"Boy, that was a big business -- magazines and comic books," she recalled. She can only guess how many hours she spent at the drugstore's former gift-wrap corner, taping paper and bows onto presents for people lucky enough to have birthdays on summer vacation.

Irene remembers Jimmy Neeley ferrying her across the swollen Russian River, twice a day, so that she could get to work and then back home when floods cut off access to the bridge. She remembers how grateful she was when computers came into use in the store and her bosses told her she need not bother with them.

Lark Drugs has been so good to her, she has mixed emotions about her decision to retire at the end of this month. But she's close to 91 years old, and she has moved slower since the hip surgery that followed a fall at home last April.

"I can't imagine working any other place all these years," she said. "I feel fortunate to have found something that would support me."

One of Irene's bosses, Lark Drugs co-owner Jim Gaffney, said he half-expects her to dabble with retirement and then come back to work.


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