For nearly 50 years, Colleen Ryker greeted customers at Modern Auto with a smile that shined brighter than the new cars on the showroom floor.
“Colleen was more than an employee,” said Modern Auto President Jim Feltmann Sr. “She was a friend and a part of the family, and she did her best to pass that feeling on to everyone.”
Ryker retired from her post as the receptionist at the Washington dealership in November. She said it was a tough decision, but at 77, she decided she wanted to spend more time with her family and friends.
But Ryker said she left the job with 47 years’ worth of great memories.
Start of a Longtime Career
In 1964 Ryker was working at the Deb Shoe Co. on Fifth Street in Washington.
She worked in the payroll department and also part time on the switchboard.
She said she wasn’t looking to change jobs when she got a phone call from Jim Feltmann Sr.
“The phone rang and it was Jim,” she said. “He asked if I had ever thought about changing jobs. I said, ‘Jim, doesn’t everybody?’ ”
Jim Feltmann Sr. told her to come down and apply because they were hiring another receptionist.
“I thought, I’d just go down, but probably won’t get hired anyway,” she said. “Two weeks later I started working.”
Ryker worked for Modern Auto for about a year and a half, but she said her hours were opposite her husband’s hours and she didn’t get to spend time with him.
“Hitch got a job with Phillip Transit driving to Kansas City every evening,” she said. “When I’d leave work, I’d pass him on the bridge every day. We decided that wasn’t a life for us.”
Ryker told John Feltmann, Jim’s father and head of the company, that she needed to quit.
“I told him why. He said he understood, but he told me if I decided to come back, my job would be waiting,” she said.
Three years later, Ryker was filling in at her husband’s work as a receptionist when she met up with John Feltmann again.
“He came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Are you about ready to come back?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ ”
In 1968 Ryker went back to work for Modern permanently.
Part of a Family
Ryker said the Feltmanns always treated her like family.
John was like a grandfather to me,” she said. “The man was so kind and the employees meant so much to him. When he became ill and wasn’t able to drive to work, I would pick him up.”
When John Feltmann passed away, Jim Feltmann Sr. took over the business.
“What a man he was,” she said. “He loved to play tricks on me. I used to take the mail to John and Jim would hide behind the steps and jump out and scare me.”
“She was always good for a loud scream,” Jim Feltmann Sr. said. “But the tricks were always done with respect and admiration for her.”
The Feltmanns weren’t the only ones who got a kick out of hearing Ryker scream, she said.
“The service department would send over dead frogs with the customer orders,” she said. “They were always sending things over like that.”
Count on Colleen
At times Ryker said she felt like more than a receptionist to the customers.
On a typical day, she might keep a service customer occupied with conversation then talk to someone waiting for someone in sales.
“I met a lot of people and made many friends over the years,” Ryker said. “Customers would come in and tell me their problems.”
One woman even brought her a crocheted scarf after Ryker complimented her on the one she was making.
“People would do things like that,” she said.
When Modern Auto was on Main Street in Downtown Washington, Ryker said people would just pop in off the street to chat. She even had a regular four-legged visitor.
Gary Lucy and his Border collie “Snookie Dog” would come in often to talk to Jim Feltmann Sr.
“I bought some treats for Snookie and kept them in my desk,” Ryker said. “Gary would first go to Droege’s (grocery) and tie her up outside. Then he’d come to Modern. He said it got to the point when he’d untie her she’d pull him down to Modern.”
“It was a fun place to work,” she said. I’ve met many, many wonderful people there and I’m going to miss them all terribly.”