When Barb Klein was a Hillsboro High School senior in 1972, she could have embarked on a career in journalism.
“I worked at the Hillsboro Star-Journal when I was in high school,” she said. “I went over for an hour or two a day instead of going to class. I typed on their great big computer. I typed in and proofread parts of the paper.”
However, when she graduated in 1973, teeth, not ink, were in her future. She trained as a dental assistant and went to work for a Wichita orthodontist.
She wasn’t looking for another job, but one found her at a Marion bar when she came home one weekend in 1976.
“We were all in The Lounge, and Dave Crofoot’s first wife, Cindy, was complaining she was going to have to go back to work because somebody quit,” Klein said.
Crofoot’s parents, John and Marian Crofoot of Cedar Point, had a young promotional products company called Western Associates.
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you take shorthand?’” Klein said. “I said, ‘Yes I do,’ and they said, ‘Do you want to interview for a job?’”
After interviewing with John and Marian the next day, Klein took a job as John’s secretary and also working with his son, Jim.
She’s been with Western Associates ever since.
She and Jim literally saw eye-to-eye, working together at a double desk, something they would do for about 20 years.
John Crofoot was in the Kansas Senate for 10 years, and often Klein would take dictation for letters when he was home on weekends.
However, Klein wasn’t finished with life-changing bar excursions. She was on one in 1980 when she met her husband Ralph.
“I was with some friends in Peabody at the Coneburg and they introduced me to him,” she said. “We were married within three months.”
The pace of technological change has been job-changing.
“Back then, when you did an order it was a six or seven piece form, and if you made a mistake you rolled it out of your typewriter, you whited it out, and then you started over,” Klein said. “Now you sit down at your computer and if you make a mistake you back up, fix it, and move on. We did everything by mail by then, then we went to faxes, now we hardly fax anything. Everything is email.”
As a customer service representative, Klein works with sales staff, vendors, and customers to keep things running smoothly. She’s responsible for five sales reps in Kansas, Florida, and Virginia.
However, she’s still a “Jill of all trades” when it comes to handling things around the Marion office.
“You just step up and do everything,” Klein said. “You call the grocery store and tell them we’re out of toilet paper; then you talk to a president of some company and tell them this isn’t going to work. I’ve always kind of been the one that when the photocopy machine quits, they yell, ‘Barb, come fix it.’ Machines hate me, but I’m good with photocopy machines.”
Working with the Crofoot family in a business with a family-like atmosphere has been gratifying, Klein said. Since Dave and Jim took over the company in 1987 when John and Marian retired, she’s learned to read their tendencies.
“I probably know them well enough that if someobody asks if we’re going to do this or that, I can tell you,” she said.
Klein wouldn’t bite when asked whether Dave or Jim was her favorite.
“Some days one, some days the other,” she said. “It depends on who’s being nicer.”
Klein has given some thought as to what she’d like to do after she retires. She knits and quilts, and has knitted Afghans as Christmas presents for everyone in her family. While she has traveled some for work, she would like to see other places.
When it comes to visiting grandchildren, her marriage to Ralph came with two stepchildren and a unique travel partner.
“He has two children he shares with Karen Regnier; she’s our ex-wife,” Klein said. “We’ve drive to Omaha together, we’ve gone to Texas together. We have grandkids in Texas and in Larned.”
She hasn’t set a retirement date yet, but of one thing she’s certain.
“I probably won’t be here another 40 years,” she said.