It's unusual to find your lifetime career as a teenager and even more unusual to stick to it for 75 years.

Lydia Lunney, 93, did both. The longtime hostess at what is now Macy's River Room restaurant in downtown St. Paul died Thursday, pretty much getting her wish to work there until the day she died.

Lunney's last day at the restaurant was Nov. 18, said Gilbert Graf, the husband of Lunney's niece Carol. "We had talked to her by phone that evening after she had gotten home from work, and everything seemed fine," Graf said.

The next morning Carol went to Lunney's St. Paul home to pick her up for work and discovered Lunney lying on the floor. She had suffered a massive stroke and died eight days later at St. Mary's Home in St. Paul.

The news of Lunney's death hit co-workers and regular patrons of the River Room like a thunderbolt, according to Tony Shipshock, the restaurant's general manager.

"There are people who have been coming in here since they were children. Now they bring their children here. And all that time Lydia has been here. They knew her, and she knew all of them," Shipshock said.

"It was a perfect fit," Shipshock said of Lunney's long tenure at the restaurant. "You have to love what you do, and she did. Lydia was such a gracious person. She had a quality that just resonated with customers."

Lunney began her career in the restaurant business in the coffee shop and later the tea room of Schuneman's Department Store in the Hamm Building in St. Paul. Schuneman's was bought by Dayton's, and eventually Dayton's moved from the Hamm Building to a new building on Wabasha Street. A series of mergers saw the Dayton's name change first to Marshall Field's and eventually to Macy's.

She retired in 1983, but it didn't take, and within eight months she was back at work. "I worried I'd become a couch potato," she said in a Star Tribune story published in 1998, shortly before she was inducted into the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame. "I don't know; I wasn't ready. I guess I got bored."

Restaurant work was in her family's blood. Of her six sisters, two were homemakers and one became a dancer, but the others were waitresses. Lunney worked with one for 50 years, another for 35 years.

She also met her husband, a busboy named Charles, whom everyone called Ozzie, at Schuneman's. He became a baker at Schuneman's and later went into cabinet-making and contracting work. He died in 1989 after 51 years of marriage.

"Lydia's philosophy was that she wanted to work until the day she died, but in a way she really didn't think of her job as work," said Gilbert Graf. "It was enjoyment."

In addition to Carol Graf, Lunney is survived by a sister, Wanda Shimon, and several other nieces and nephews. A visitation is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. today at Kessler & Maguire Funeral Home, 640 W. 7th St., St. Paul. A memorial service is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at the funeral home.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723