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.’
“You see, I had a loving mother and father. Nine daughters. We had love in the house, I tell you. Not every child has that.”
Ramey’s advice for those with good jobs and homes: “There’s too many people on the street. We need more people to care. That would be the most glorious thing.”