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Mitchell waitress retiring after 50 years devoted to great service

Loretta Blindauer, 85, serves food Tuesday afternoon at the American Legion in downtown Mitchell. She's retiring this week following 50 years of waitressing on the same block downtown. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
Loretta Blindauer, 85, writes down lunch orders Tuesday afternoon at the American Legion in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

Anyone who’s had a bite to eat in the 100 block of Mitchell’s North Main Street over the past 50 years might know Loretta Blindauer.

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She began waitressing in 1963 at Ryberg’s, a now-defunct restaurant that was situated near the location of the current Big Dummy’s bar. Then she worked at the Town House, a small restaurant that once occupied the location of the modern Mitchell VFW. She now works at the American Legion.

She celebrated her 85th birthday Wednesday, and she plans to hang up her apron for good after today’s dinner rush.

“I’ve been a waitress for 50 years,” she said. “I never thought I’d work this long.”

Early on, Blindauer worked secretarial stints at several local businesses, but she always preferred waitressing.

“I just love it,” she said. “I’m a person who has to be on the move all the time. I just like meeting people, and there’s always something different going on.”

She and coworker Susi Contreras split the cavernous Legion dining room, which has 25 tables and eight counter seats. The lunch rush starts at 11:30 a.m.

“So when it’s really busy, we’re running,” she said.

Contreras said her husband Carlos enjoys being waited on by Blindauer.

“He says he will take Loretta’s service any time of the year because she always remembers what he likes.”

That’s not remarkable to Blindauer, who says she knows what her regulars are going to order when they walk in the door.

In mid-interview, Blindauer spies customers at her station and springs to action. Snatching up several menus, a water carafe and a coffee pot, she’s off to greet her customers and take their orders. The order placed, she picks up where she left off.

“When I was younger I heard people said I was the best waitress in town,” she said with some pride, “but I don’t think they’d say that today.”

Former Legion boss Darwin Buus said he’s always been impressed with Blindauer’s efficiency.

“She doesn’t miss a movement,” he said. “If she waits on a person she always picks up a cup or plate on her return trip to the kitchen.”

Like any waitress, Blindauer has served her share of jerks, though she would never use that word. She rolls with the difficult types and offers a smile to all.

“I’m kind of quiet, and you’re always supposed to please the customer,” she said.

She and husband Edwin celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in April. They recently moved into Letcher from the farm they bought in 1950, where they raised five children. They sold the farm to son Gary.

“When I took my first waitressing job I never thought I’d end up working this long, but back then times were hard on the farm,” she said. “This job helped us to put our kids through college.”

Four kids attended Mitchell Technical Institute — then Mitchell Vo-Tech — and one attended South Dakota State University.

Blindauer said she will miss the paycheck and tips that helped to pay for Christmas presents and other expenses through the years.

Work just comes normally for her, said Blindauer, who prefers staying busy to lounging in front of a TV.

“I’ve worked hard all my life — in the fields, or raising kids, chickens and geese, and vaccinating pigs and cattle. On the farm I was the extra hired man,” she said. “I’ve always had a big garden on and I do a lot of canning.”

Retirement will allow her more time for her embroidering and other pursuits, and time to enjoy friends and her 16 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. She will miss her customers. “I really hate to give it up, but my husband and my children have been wanting me to quit for quite a while. They want me to enjoy life.”

Which, some might argue, is exactly what she has been doing.