Social media generates support for likable grandfather, ill grandson.
By Kathi McCorkle
WAKE FOREST — What began as a pat on the back via social media has turned into an outpouring of love and a community fundraiser for a Wake Forest man named Bob and his baby grandson, Erik.
“Just wanted to give a shoutout to the cashier at the Wake Forest Target named Bob!” Jessica Hendricks wrote Monday on the Wake Forest Community Facebook page. “[H]e is so kind and always smiling.”
“I try and go to his register if I see him because you can’t have a conversation with him and leave there in a bad mood,” she added. “I recommend waiting in the line at his register!”
Within hours, more than a hundred Wake Forest residents, some who know Bob from Target, some of his neighbors and some who just want to meet him, left comments, compliments and praise for the cashier who makes their shopping trips better with his gentle, kind manner.
“He always talks with my kids…”
“… asks me what I’m making for dinner with the food I’m buying …”
“is so kind …”
“… is awesome!”
One of the commenters, however, referred to Bob’s infant grandson, whom she learned from Bob has some very expensive medical issues. Once word got out of Erik’s need, the Wake Forest community, led by town commissioner Zachary Donahue, sprang into action to create a fundraiser to help.
Bob is Bob Harmening, 75, a silver-haired man with sparkling blue eyes who started working when he was in the eighth grade. He began with private greenhouse gardeners in his South Indianapolis neighborhood, harvesting two tomato crops a year. For 15 cents an hour, he tended to those tomato plants, eventually earning 50 cents per hour. (To this day, Bob still grows tomato plants and has 350 of them in his garage, which he plans to give away.) That money put him through college, where he earned degrees in business administration and philosophy.
After a 38-year career in the metalworking industry, where he started with a college degree that didn’t apply to his new job and ended up as general manager of plant operations, he was abruptly dismissed.
He was then in his early 60s and felt like his employment options were few. He and his son-in-law, Jim Chapin, ran a Roscoe’s sporting goods store near Charlotte for a while. Then Bob started working at Target in Mooresville when one of the two superstores in North Carolina opened on the same day, the other of which is in Wake Forest.
He was happy to “get in on the ground floor,” at Target, he said, and started out on the sales floor, which he enjoyed until he found out he’d have to start working nights and weekends. He then decided to become a cashier.
He transferred to Target in Wake Forest after he and his wife Joan moved to the town in 2005 to be closer to their three children and six grandchildren, who all live in the Heritage neighborhood.
In talking about his grandson’s challenges, Bob struggles to hold back tears.
Erik, now seven months old, was born with a liver disorder called biliary atresia. At two months old, he had a four-hour surgery to correct clogged biliary ducts and was home within a week.
According to his doctors, more than 80 percent of children who undergo the surgery still end up needing a liver transplant. Erik is one of them. His bilirubin numbers continue to come down with each two-week visit to the doctor. That is good news. But the fact is, Erik still needs a new liver.
The doctors would prefer to perform the transplant after his second birthday, so now it’s a matter of keeping him healthy until then.
When Donahue saw the outpouring of compliments for Bob on Facebook, he decided to organize a community fundraiser for Erik, so that when time for the surgery comes, the family’s financial burden may be lessened.
With Target’s blessing, Donahue and a group of like-minded neighbors worked with the store to set up a symbolic checkout line this Saturday from 1-3 p.m. People can line up to meet Bob and Erik and leave a donation if they’d like. Along with Erik’s parents Colleen and Carl Larsen, other family members will be there to meet folks.
Donations of cash, checks and credit cards will be accepted.
Those unable to attend Saturday are encouraged to donate via the website cotaforerikl.com.
A company man
When asked what motivates him to treat his customers so kindly, Bob said, “I enjoy talking and sharing stories and I want people to leave Target happy. I talk to the guests and acknowledge their children so that they will know how to treat others.”
He is every bit the company man, and is grateful to Target and his supervisors, especially Stephanie Kudamik, for giving him the lee-way he needs to take care of his guests the way he does.
“My (checkout) speed scores aren’t the best. In fact, they are probably the worst, but I’m not worried about that. If a guest is in a hurry, it might matter.
“Guests must leave Target feeling good about Target. The customer is king.”
We’d say, according to the more than 200 people who commented about him on Facebook, Bob is king.