Life didn't turn out quite the way Glenn and Rose Ann Seutter had planned. He was going to go to medical school. They were going to raise a family in Florida.
Instead, they wound up running a convenience store in Minnetonka for almost half a century. They retired and sold the store in January, when both were 75. Looking back, they say they've never regretted that long-ago choice.
The couple loved everything about running the store — working hard, teaching their children the value of hard work, chatting with customers, making friends in the community. Over the years, they became so popular in the area that sometimes longtime customers who had moved to, say, St. Louis Park or Wayzata, would return to the store for a newspaper and a cup of coffee.
"For me, the business was never a job," Glenn Seutter said. "It was something I enjoyed going to every single day. It wasn't work, it was fun."
The two Minnesota natives married in 1969. Glenn, who worked in an Army surgical hospital during the Vietnam War, planned a medical career. They moved to Florida for its warm climate, expecting that Glenn would go to medical school there.
But life had other ideas. Rose Ann found herself lonely in Florida, too far from family. So after just 14 months, they moved back to Minnesota. Glenn spent several years managing a small store in Hopkins. In 1974, they bought a store of their own in Minnetonka Mills, a neighborhood of houses and small cluster of businesses on Minnehaha Creek, named after a saw mill that operated there in the 19th century. The store was originally a small food market with a butcher shop. The Seutters wanted more of a convenience-store structure that also sold food.
"I've always known the grocery business, so I had no problem changing direction," said Glenn, confident he could run a store of his own. Rose Ann knew how to keep the books.
But first, the rundown building needed a lot of sprucing up.
"It was a mess, it was a disaster," Rose Ann said. "The floors were roller coasters, sagging, dirty."
But Glenn knew that Minnetonka Boulevard, which runs in front of the store, would be expanding from a two-lane road to four lanes, and the location had potential. He bought it "not for what it was, but for what I thought it could be," he said.
Over the years, the Seutters bought properties on both sides of the store, including a small engine repair shop they expanded with gas pumps, and a liquor store with apartments they turned into a car wash in 1999. In the convenience store, they set up and ran a deli with a variety of fast foods and a party catering business. Later they converted the deli into a franchise sandwich shop.
Carol Bentley, the Seutters' first employee, remembers watching the Seutters "build that building into something so wonderful." She was impressed by their diligence and long hours, even with (eventually) three children.
"We were just constantly working," Rose Ann acknowledged. "It was four years before we got to take a vacation of some kind."
But they didn't mind, not just because they were hard workers but because they so enjoyed getting to know folks in the community.
"I'm a people person — I like people," Glenn said. "So that kind of business for me, it kind of suits my personality."
The couple moved to Maple Grove in 1972 because they wanted to put a bit of distance between themselves and their store. But that didn't keep them from becoming pillars of the community in that part of Minnetonka, from sponsoring kids' sports teams to stocking any product a customer requested to greeting their customers by name and asking about their families.
"They got involved in the community, like, right away," said Paul Giel Jr. of Greenwood, who grew up in the neighborhood, riding his bike around and tubing on the creek. "They introduced themselves, they worked that place day and night … When you went in, they knew who you were and said hi."
The store displayed plaques commemorating every youth team they sponsored. Now the kids whose pictures are on those plaques bring their own kids into the store and show them off.
"I knew when I went to Glenn's I wasn't getting out of there in five minutes," said Deane Wallick, a longtime customer and friend. "He'd come out from behind the counter and say, 'Hey, come here, come here, I've got to tell you this joke.' And they'd be the dumbest jokes you ever heard. You'd sit down, pull up a chair and shoot the breeze."
The Seutters were also great employers, agreed Bentley and Tasha Hall, who worked at the store on and off for 15 years.
"They treat their employees like their family," said Hall, who worked her way up from cashier to general manager. "They empathize with them and they take care of them. They care about your personal life and support everything that you do."
The Seutters never stopped working hard, filling their shifts each week. "They worked in the store along with everyone else and wouldn't ask you to do anything they wouldn't do themselves," Hall said.
That was how the Seutters wanted it. "I never liked to think of them as working for us as much as I did working with us," Glenn said.
Even Glenn's parents helped out in the store.
Meanwhile, the Seutters saw to it that their own three children helped out, too, developing a work ethic and learning things they wouldn't learn in school.
The children grew up and were successful in their fields. Sean, 51, of San Jose, is an engineering director and inventor in the electronics industry; Ryan, 46, of Suffolk, Va., is a cardiologist; and Ashlee Hangartner, 37, is a senior manager for Target Corp. and lives in Blaine.
Their kids started working there by the time they were 11 or 12 — earning minimum wage and developing what Sean Seutter calls "core values" of hard work, of course, as well as responsibility, optimism, positivity.
Sean was given responsibilities like stocking shelves early on; by the time he was a teenager, he was tasked with closing the store at 11 p.m. and following a checklist: count the register and balance the till. Or he'd open the store at 5 a.m., turn on the lights, get the coffee started and flip the "open" sign.
As for optimism and positivity, Sean never saw his parents complain, regardless of what challenges they might face.
''I'm already getting a little older and I could never complain about working too much," having seen his parents work well into their 70s, he said. "They never complained. Hard as they worked and as frustrating as it was to them … their attitude was just so positive."
The Seutters, true to character, filled their shifts behind the counter all the way through their last week with the store in January.
"We went out with a bang," Glenn said. "We really enjoyed the business. We've got three of the most wonderful kids in the world. For us, it was the best life you could have."
Katy Read • 612-673-4583