High school graduation is a huge milestone and represents one of our biggest life transitions. That usually creates a variety of emotions - from excitement and anticipation of new beginnings, to sadness at the closing of a chapter. For one Gothenburg family this year’s graduation is even more meaningful. It brings the end of an era.
Amy Wenger started working at Runza Restaurant in Gothenburg for Walt and Jolene Catlett when she was just 15-years-old. Little could she have ever imagined then that in the coming years all of her children would follow in those footsteps, and a great friendship would be established with the Runza family.
“I worked at this Runza all through high school, and after I graduated I worked at the North Platte store for almost a year then came back and worked here for many years,” Amy recalled.
She eventually decided to pursue a career in cosmetology and enrolled in school in North Platte. But even then she remained connected to Runza, working at the store in North Platte while she attended school.
“I did take a little time off and worked in cosmetology, but ended up going back to work at Runza here for Jeff (Whiting). I was the general manager at that time, and worked in that position until about eight years ago when I went to First State Bank,” said Amy.
When her first child, Haley, was old enough to go to work she naturally started at Runza, and with her mom as manager it was an easy transition. Amy’s other three children, Jordan, Taylor and Cameron all followed suit and worked at the fast-food store throughout their high school years. Amy said being both mom and boss never seemed to cause any conflict.
“The kids grew up in Runza, they would come in sometimes with me, so it was just part of their life,” she explained. “It was never weird or awkward.”
Amy worked with both Haley and Jordan, but had transitioned to the bank by the time Taylor started at Runza. However, during the years that she was there Amy said her family established a close bond with the Whiting family.
“When Whitings took over the store we were having kids at the same time, so our kids literally grew up together. Our families were close,” Amy said.
Going to work at a young age didn’t seem like anything unusual or out of the ordinary for Amy - she began working at age 12 at Daylight Donut. “That work ethic was always just built into me, and a lot of time I worked two jobs. So my kids knew early on that they would work,” said Amy. “They’ve never felt like they didn’t have to work.”
She said she has always appreciated the fact that Runza strives to employ a lot of high school aged kids. “I think it’s good just getting the kids in there before they go off to adult life and just learning some basic life skills. I had lots of kids that stuck with me a long time.”
“When I came to work for Runza in 1995, Amy was already here. She was one of the original crew members at this store,” said Jeff Whiting. “Throughout the years we were both having children, and Amy ended up being general manager of this store. Then all of a sudden here comes our kids, getting to be 14-15 years old. I call them legacy kids. Their parents worked here and now they are the next generation. I’ve just been blessed to have this family as part of our family. It’s been kinda cool for the past 25 years.”
Cameron started working at Runza right after turning 15 and said he plans to continue working until he leaves for college in the fall. Jeff added that he knows if he ever gets in a crunch he can call on the Wenger family and they would help out. That is, after all, what friends do.