Gary Cheatwood knew early in his life the career he would pursue.
“I started at the Alcoa Kroger in 1966, bagging groceries,” the Kroger Maryville store general manger said. “I knew pretty early on what I wanted to do. I enjoyed it, and it has been a good career. I had a lot of opportunities.”
Cheatwood also has been a leader in helping raise money for local and national charities.
District manager David Wells praised Cheatwood for his efforts. “His store has always been a big supporter and one of the top stores in the division for raising money for United Way,” Wells said.
The district manager said Cheatwood has also been active in leading his store to help with other charities such as Children’s Miracle Network and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“With the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, they’ve raised probably over $50,000 in the last 10 years,” he said. “Those are just a few that come to mind. What really stands out is how they led everybody with United Way. Every year they are by far and away one of the biggest fundraisers in our division and probably across the whole company.”
Cheatwood said the store’s Adopt-a-School program has also been important. “We’ve had our Adopt-a-School program and it is a big thing,” he said. “Then we also help with the Empty Pantry Fund, getting food loaded up, even though it happens at a very busy time of year for our store. We really work hard in the community.”
Cheatwood said his career took him to communities throughout East Tennessee but he has spent the majority of his time with the company working in Blount County.
Cheatwood left the Alcoa Kroger and went to the Newport store in 1971 as a department head. He was there for 18 months before he became a management trainee back at the Alcoa Kroger and then at a Knoxville location. Cheatwood was promoted to co-manager at the Morristown store where he stayed for a year and a half, and then worked at the Oak Ridge store as a co-manager. In 1975 he was promoted to manager at that location and he stayed there until 1977.
“They gave me opportunities to open four new stores. I opened the Farragut Kroger in 1979. In 1984, I opened the Fountain City store, and in 1986, I opened the Chapman Highway store. In 2001, I opened this store,” he said of the Watkins Road store in Maryville.
Regarding retirement, Cheatwood said that initially he and his wife, Brenda, will travel. “I’m still young. I want to explore. There are places I want to visit,” he said, “like Europe.”
Recently employees celebrated Cheatwood’s career during the annual company picnic at Pearson Springs Park. “We try to do picnic once a year with employees. A lot of people wished me well, but I really didn’t want it to be about me retiring, but it kind of turned into that,” he said.
Cheatwood said he knows he will adjust to the retired life.
“Retail is a fast-paced business. The biggest thing I’ll miss is the employees. The core of this store actually came from the Alcoa store, and we’ve all been together a long time,” he said.
Cheatwood said the employees have always had a good attitude about helping the public. “Over the years there have been so many employees who always worked so hard to help the customer. That’s what the job is about -- the relationships and the quality of people you meet. I’m not just saying this, they truly give more effort than they have to because it’s not just a job, they’re trying to take care of the customer.”
Cheatwood said retail can be tough but usually it is customers who make his day brighter.
“You meet a lot of good people. That’s the part of retail that’s different from a career in another field like manufacturing,” he said. “You’re interacting with the public, and the majority of the time, that is pleasant.”
Cheatwood and his wife Brenda have four sons: Chad, 26; Brent, 33; Brad, 32; and Clark, 19. Two of their sons followed their dad into the grocery business. Brad Cheatwood is a co-manager at the Kroger at Chapman Square, and Clark is a part-time clerk at the Alcoa Kroger.
Wells said Cheatwood will be sorely missed. “He’s been an integral part of everything we’ve accomplished in this area for years,” he said.
The district manager said Cheatwood is a mentor to lot of current managers in the company. “He’s looked up to for his knowledge and leadership. He’s highly respected. He’s really a model leader any company would be proud to have. He will be missed. He’s one of a kind.”