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Greg Peters column: 'Smile, you're at Kwik Trip!'

Greg Peters

One of my best friends, Brian Senoraske, used to have a dog named Sonic. I loved Sonic. Sonic was a big golden retriever, tipping the scale at 90 pounds. Watching him (Sonic, not Brian) frolic in the Kinni on a sizzling summer day made me smile. The cool flowing river was Mother Nature's built-in air conditioner for a hefty, hairy dog.

Sonic loved to play fetch, which should be no huge surprise to anyone. He was a retriever, right? That's like saying Packer fans like tailgating or Sonic's owner, Brian, likes wearing snug-fitting T-shirts. All three are indisputable fact.

While playing fetch, Sonic was as excited as any other fetch-loving dog; however, when he was in hot pursuit of his saliva-soaked tennis ball, Sonic would instinctively put on the brakes, stop, and ever so carefully walk past my then 2-year-old in diapers. As soon as the coast was clear, Sonic would kick it back into fifth gear and hustle back for another throw. And another. And another. And another.

I started writing a column in the River Falls Journal about two years ago. My goal was and still is to help bring our community closer to each other by sharing stories about our town, one person and one story at a time. It's like Sonic playing fetch with toddlers waddling around. Some stories I have to cautiously slow down and, with other stories, I can put the pedal to the metal.

Hopefully, this story will put a smile on your face. I know Rich Jorgensen would like if it does. He loves making people smile.

If you've ever been to either Kwik Trip in town during the past two years, you may have noticed a middle-aged African-American man sitting inside by the window greeting people as they walk in the door.

His name is Rich Jorgensen and he'll likely give you a sticker. They started out as smiley face stickers and he's currently shelling out "Minion" stickers.

"The Dollar Tree had a sale on the Minion stickers and I stocked up," said Rich with the kind of loud laugh that makes the listener laugh just hearing it.

Rich Jorgensen doesn't work at Kwik Trip but he spends about 15 hours a week there passing out stickers and saying "hi" to customers walking in.

"It makes me feel really happy and really good to see people smile," said the 8-year River Falls' resident.

Rich became the "Kwik Trip Guy" because he wasn't doing too much smiling of his own in February 2017. Rich described being taken advantage of by roommates and he didn't know what to do or where to turn, so one day a little over two years ago, he just walked to Kwik Trip to get away for awhile.

"Then, I got a calling from the Guy upstairs," said Rich. "I knew I wanted to make people smile and that's what I like to do. Kwik Trip is my safe place. It got me away from the situation I was in."

A woman named Sally leaving the store after receiving a sticker and a "hello" from Rich said, "Gosh that was so nice. That (Rich's sticker) made my day. Today was a day I really needed something like that."

The funny thing about smiles, they reciprocate. Rich needed Sally's smile as much as she needed his.

Rich was severely abused by his mom until he was about 8 years old in the Twin Cities. He was taken away from her and was in the care of the state for the next six years until he was adopted by the Jorgensen family. He hasn't seen his biological mom since he was 8 and has never met his dad.

You may be able to understand, now, why he spends so much time at Kwik Trip doing what he does.

Rich, however, does more than just say "hi" and hand out smiley stickers. He used to have Amblyopia (scientific term for a lazy eye) in his left eye.

One day River Falls' resident Andy Strub walked into Kwik Trip and noticed Rich had his eye fixed and told him it looked great. Andy had the same issue with one of his eyes.

"Where'd you have it fixed?" asked Andy.

"Associated Eye Care in Stillwater," said Rich proudly.

Andy has since had the surgery and so have three others Andy has referred. It all started with a smile and a sticker.

"Someone once said kind people are the best kind of people," said Andy. "I think of that when I see Rich."

I'm thinking Associated Eye Care should stock Rich's smile-ammo with a year's supply of stickers to hand out after performing five surgeries because of him.

Two years after his smile-cultivation calling, Rich is living in his own apartment and doesn't have to worry about roommates taking advantage of him anymore. He works 25 hours per week bagging groceries at Dick's Fresh Market and he has money to buy stickers to hand out because that's what he likes to do. That and sing karaoke on Monday night at Broz Sports Bar & Grill, which will also put a smile on your face.

"It's good to smile," said Rich.

Rich Jorgensen is rich in every sense of the word.