Thrift store manager turns in her keys after 38 years

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Russ Jackson
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It's a cold Thursday morning as Joan Wasserstrom arrives to the McChord Thrift Shop early as usual. She reaches the door and discovers it's locked and reaches for her keys but they aren't hanging from neck where she usually finds them. She's going to have to get used to that.

For the last 38 years, Wasserstrom has had her hand in running the thrift shop and has finally decided to pass the torch and let her team of volunteers take over management of the store.

Wasserstrom moved to the area from Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1976 with her husband who was a pilot in the 8th Airlift Squadron.

"When we came here, I thought there was no reason I couldn't go back to working at a thrift shop and as soon as the Officer's Spouses Club found out I ran a thrift store in Grand Forks they had me fill out an application," Wasserstrom said. "That very same day they asked me if I wanted to be a chairman. From then on, volunteering here has been my hobby; 38 years worth."

The thrift shop has been a success for Airmen, their families and organizations at McChord Field during Wasserstrom's time in charge. During the 2011-2012 year alone, the store was able to raise more than $65,000 in total contributions that went to organizations like the 62nd and 446th First Sergeants Councils, Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Fisher House, Deployed Family Dinner's and many more.

"When we can't move clothing after a while we'll pull them out and donate them to Goodwill," Wasserstrom said. "The uniforms that don't sell we will give to the [Civil Air Patrol] on base and they give us a certificate of appreciation once a year to thank us for donating uniforms."

Wasserstrom has been so valuable to McChord Field during her tenure at the thrift shop that active duty, Reserves, Guardsmen and retired members of the Air Force and their dependents are eligible to receive the Joan Wasserstrom Scholarship and Outstanding Student Merit Awards.

"Hundreds of military members and their families have benefited from scholarships awarded by the OSC, monies which would not have been possible without Joan leading the efforts," said Darleen Price, McChord Thrift Shop volunteer. "That's a very good reason for why there is a scholarship named in her honor that is presented each year."

According to the application, scholarships are awarded to applicants based on a ranked scale. The student who receives the highest number of points based on the ranking system receives the Joan Wasserstrom Scholarship. The monies come from gathered charitable events and proceeds from the McChord Thrift Shop.

"I think I had been here about 30 years, it was about eight years ago when I walked in to a function after [the McChord Spouses Club] called to make sure I was coming, even after I made the reservation," Wasserstrom said. "My husband and I walked into the Officers Club and our sons were sitting at the table and I didn't know they were going to be there. They surprised me and said after all these years they wanted to do a scholarship in my name and it was so nice.

"We gave out at least three scholarships to spouses last year. The gal that works as our book keeper was one of our scholarship winners. She went on to school and now she's back here working," she said with a smile.

These days, Wasserstrom limits herself to working just on Thursdays as a volunteer. She enjoys her hobby of working at the store, her fellow volunteers and interacting with every single person that walks through the door.

The McChord Field Thrift Shop is located at building 717 and is open Tuesday through Thursday as well as the first Saturday of each month from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Consignments are also accepted on those same days until 12:30 p.m.

For more information about the Thrift Shop or the Joan Wasserstrom Scholarship and Outstanding Student Merit Awards, call 982-2468.