Over 50 years, Rose Ramey helped thousands at Goodwill

Rose Ramey has been a mentor to many who sought training at Goodwill.

Rose Ramey is not a high-ranking manager, but with more than 50 years of work at Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota she may be its most respected leader.

Though nev­er part of her for­mal job de­scrip­tion, Ramey has coun­seled thou­sands of Minnesotans who came to Good­will in search of train­ing and a job.

“Rose is the first per­son you see when you come through the door,” said Carl Nimis, a blind, onetime felon who turned his life around through Goodwill and, having worked at Chipotle Mexican Grill since 2011, is one of its many successes.

“I told Rose, ‘Society doesn’t want me. I don’t have hous­ing or a job. I al­most was bet­ter off in pris­on.’ She told me, ‘I will not let you give up,’ ” Nimis recalls. “Every day, she was there. It took a few more months, but I got this job. And my life has been going up since. I have many men­tors and Rose is one of them.”

Goodwill, which works with businesses and the government to train and em­ploy dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple, has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as it expanded, cleaned up its stores and made the business of recycling goods more appealing. Today, it has 36 stores that employ about 2,000 people.

But just as important, the organization strengthened our community and economy through the work of people like Ramey, who helped so many with encouragement and tough love.

Such as: “Take off your cap, pull up your pants and wear a belt if you want a job.”

Ra­mey keeps a draw­er full of belts han­dy.

O­rig­i­nal­ly from Texas, Ra­mey moved to St. Paul in 1957 af­ter high school to live with a sis­ter and tend to a neph­ew with can­cer. Today, the neph­ew is well and re­tired. And Rose, a youth­ful, spir­it­u­al 76, keeps on work­ing.

“I en­joy peo­ple and I plan to con­tin­ue work­ing and I con­sider my­self for­tu­nate, blessed,” Ra­mey said the oth­er day. “I have three grown chil­dren, and eight grandkids. And I have a lot of friends and I have been touched by so many peo­ple. I am tru­ly rich.”

It was in 1963 that Ra­mey, mar­ried and the moth­er of three, took a job at Good­will’s down­town St. Paul fa­cil­i­ty, grad­ing and sorting used clothes turned in by donors.

She moved to the cafe­teria and e­ven­tu­al­ly man­aged the din­ing room at Good­will’s Como Avenue fa­cil­i­ty for years.

Good­will, which sup­ports its mis­sion with pro­ceeds from its thrift stores, gov­ern­ment con­tracts and pri­vate dona­tions, was only 100 employees, three stores and two trucks when she start­ed.

Michael Wirth-Da­vis, Good­will’s longtime CEO, got bli­stered a bit by Ra­mey when Good­will de­cid­ed to shut down its cafe­teria op­er­a­tion more than a dec­ade ago, as part of its move to new fa­cili­ties in St. Paul’s Mid­way. Da­vis want­ed Ra­mey front and cen­ter, run­ning the front desk to greet peo­ple.

Ra­mey didn’t think she could transition suc­cess­ful­ly from an a­pron and spat­u­la to a head­set and per­son­al com­puter. Now it’s second na­ture.

“Rose is hap­pi­est when she’s feed­ing peo­ple, in­clud­ing my young­est child years ago when he would vis­it the old cam­pus,” Wirth-Da­vis said. “She also feeds peo­ple ad­vice and good coun­sel, in­sight and wis­dom that goes be­yond any train­ing. Be­cause of her stand­ing, and be­cause she’s so authen­tic and means no harm, she can tell peo­ple things they need to hear with­out be­lit­tling them.”

But the tough talk be­lies her em­pa­thy for Good­will participants. Many have bat­tled post-traumatic stress disorder, which she first saw with re­turned Viet­nam War vets 45 years ago. And there are other barriers to employment she’s helped people confront: child a­buse, chemi­cal dependency, rac­ism, learn­ing dis­orders, lousy par­ents, lousy attitudes.

“God put me here for a rea­son,” Ra­mey said. “If some­one has a bad at­ti­tude, some­times I just know that, with time, they will not have a bad at­ti­tude. I had a young lady with attitude once, and I had pa­tience, and one day she came up to me said, ‘I just need to talk and for you to pray for me.’

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