Gus Kroos retires from Victoria H-E-B after 35 years with company
Jan. 10, 2011 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2011 at 7:10 p.m.
Gus Kroos greeted employees as he walked through the Rio Grande Street H-E-B: a wave to the woman behind the register, a "hello" to the person handing out samples and a slap on the back to the management.
After 35 years with H-E-B - and 25 years as unit director - Kroos will retire.
Kroos' last working day was Dec. 21, but he will be on paid vacation through Feb. 24.
The long-time manager got his start as a clerk in Portland and worked his way up through the ranks, moving to different stores every time he advanced. As his four children grew older, he decided to set down roots.
Thus began his 25-year career in Victoria.
Kroos is the only unit director in the company to remain at one store for so long, he said, explaining that, between the city and his co-workers, the place was a perfect fit.
"The neat thing is that I've been with some of my partners for 25 years," he said. "I've watched their children grow up and now their grandchildren."
Olga Adame was one of those team members.
She said she particularly remembered him being supportive when she was expecting her daughter, Jamie Cortinez, and as Cortinez grew up.
"She was in the store a lot when she was little and always stopped to talk with Gus," she said. "Now she's grown and has a daughter herself who he asks about."
Adame said she'll miss having Kroos around.
"He's always been there for everybody," she said, her voice cracking as she teared up. "He was like a father image for us. Everybody who's been there at the store for a long time has a story."
Kristina Martinez got her start at H-E-B as a bagger at age 16. She described Kroos as a good listener who gave advice, but let people handle their own situations.
"He always let me spread my wings and try to fly, whether I fell or not," said Martinez, now a bookkeeper. "He taught us all to be strong and responsible for our actions. He was a very good leader."
Although Kroos was a professional businessman, he was a "nut" behind the scenes, Martinez said. One of his favorite jokes was to hide behind the door when a team member from cosmetics came upstairs and scare her.
"Any time I saw him running that direction, I knew what was going to happen," Martinez said, laughing. "He's fun."
One of Kroos' highlights through the years was when the current Rio Grande Street H-E-B opened on Oct. 31, 2001.
The old store stood where the current parking lot sits, he said, and people expected the new store to lose money during the first few months.
"We set a record for this company and never lost money," he said. "That was one of my high points."
Kroos managed the same fete when H-E-B Plus opened on Navarro Street. Although some worried profits would go down, the store remained in the black.
He attributed his success to his team members and management team.
"You're only as good as your team," he said, seated in his now-empty office. "I worked with great people."
Through the years, Kroos kept active with the community, serving on boards for the YMCA and the Victoria Education Foundation, and overseeing H-E-B's Feast of Sharing for 15 years.
While he said he's enjoyed his career, he's also eager to "see what life's about after work."
Kroos plans to spend his first year traveling with his wife, Cheryl, enjoying family time and getting things done around the house.
He has two retirement parties this week, one for friends and co-workers Tuesday, and a formal corporate event Thursday.
But H-E-B employees beware, Kroos still plans to check in. Although he lives on the north side of town, he said he will still shop on Rio Grande Street.
"I've already been back today," he said with a laugh on Monday. "I did my shopping this morning. And I'll be back."