Ever had a really big meal?
I’m not talking about a triple cheeseburger with waffle fries or a 24 ounce T-bone medium well with a baked potato … although both of those sound really terrific right about now.
No, we’re talking about the kind of meal that sends you off on a new direction in life; the kind of meal that turns into a career.
That’s the way it happened for Al Carper, who was born and raised in Nebraska, and went on to college at the University of Nebraska.
Because it wasn’t any old lunch, you see, it was a recruiting trip for a burgeoning power in the department store vertical of the United States. A little company called J C.Penney.
“One day one of our professors took about half a dozen of us and we went to have lunch with the manager of one of the stores,” Caper recalls. “I came out of that lunch really curious about J.C. Penney and what they had to offer.”
What J.C. Penney had to offer was what has become commonplace today: a department store that is the hub for multiple goods and services for one entire town - from clothes and shoes to watches and necklaces to sporting goods and automotive repair facilities.
The diversification under one roof didn’t just appeal to customers, but also to the future great business minds of this country. In 1940, a young man named Sam Walton began working for a J.C. Penney’s in Iowa. Twenty-two years later, the idea of it would be the basis for his own mega-company, known the world over as Walmart.
Carper took to J.C. Penney’s like a fish to water.
“I started out as a management trainee, then got my own store to manage, then became a district manager,” he recalls. “I was in the corporate office in New York City for a time, then ran another district from Dallas. Then J.C. Penney’s moved its headquarters to Plano, so I was there my last 27 years working for the company.”
Although he built the majority of his professional career in Texas, Carper didn’t have too much of a problem transitioning to another home in his retirement years.
“My daughter lives right near here,” he says of Discovery Village at Sugarloaf, located in Suwanee, Georgia, “I was not really hard to leave Texas to live just a few blocks away from her.”
Carper and his wife, who passed away about eight years ago, had three children together. The daughter in Georgia has provided him with endless entertainment with two grandchildren of her own, one of whom made Carper a great-grandfather with a son and daughter of his own. All of the descendants live in the same area in Georgia.
After all his years ensuring that J.C. Penney’s profits were as high as possible, ranging routinely into the millions, Carper’s days are now filled with another financial pastime that has proven to be a bit more enjoyable.
“One of my favorite things to do here is play poker with the guys,” he says. “There’s not a lot of pressure in those games, we use the kind of money that jingles. You can go in there with $5 and be fine for the evening.”