By SUE WEBBER
Two Golden Valley women serve as models for people who are continuing to work because they enjoy it, even though they might have considered retirement in another era.
Peg Rasmussen and her husband were living in Robbinsdale and looking for a business opportunity 42 years ago, when they saw a classified advertisement for a restaurant in Hamel that seemed to fit the bill.
“I didn’t know anything about food service, but my husband had been in food service during college,” Rasmussen said. “He was planning to run the restaurant, but then he ended up working for his dad at the bank.”
Left to run the restaurant on her own, Rasmussen said, “I knew how to cook, and I pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook. The people here taught me.”
The result was a success: Peg’s Countryside Café is still going strong at 842 Highway 55 in Hamel, and Rasmussen, who has been a Golden Valley resident for 25 years, is still at the helm.
“I like the café,” she said. “No two days are the same. I have so many relationships here. It feeds my soul. I miss being there when I’m away.”
She recalls the early days, when she said, “I didn’t understand portions. One customer told me the piece of ham I gave him was so skinny that even the pig didn’t miss it.”
But she learned as she went along, running the kitchen herself for the first 25 years. “People were so welcoming,” Rasmussen said. “I have such a good staff here. That’s what’s allowed me to keep working and have the ability to keep changing roles.”
When the restaurant originally opened at 5:30 a.m., Rasmussen would get there by 4:30 a.m. It closed at 3 p.m., still allowing her time to be at home with her grade-school-aged daughter.
The restaurant, now open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, employs 25 people, seats 50 and serves 450 people each Sunday. “We’re turning those tables over eight times on a Sunday,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen still cooks on occasion, as well as hostessing at the restaurant on Sundays.
And what are the favorite menu items? “People love the banana cream pie,” she said. “My favorite is our meatloaf dinner, and we have really good chicken, too. We serve turkey on Thursday, and pork roast on Friday, and we also serve liver.”
Rasmussen started out years ago taking photos of customers and putting them on the walls in the restaurant. Hundreds of photos line the walls now, stretching from the tabletops to the ceiling.
“Many of the people in those pictures have been customers for 35 years or more,” she said. “Who gets that? I’m so full of gratitude. I’m very thankful.”
For the last 10 years, she has been nurturing a catering business, as well. “Obviously, I like to try new things,” said Rasmussen, who was the lead chef at Countryside Catering for the first two years. “I’ve learned a lot. I thought it would be a retirement job.”
“We do a lot of weddings and corporate parties, and increasingly, home parties,” she said. “People don’t cook, or they don’t want to cook, or the wife is working and they want to treat themselves,” she said.
She also continues to do cooking projects with kids in school. Every year for 20 years, a group of students from Oakwood Elementary and Wayzata Elementary schools come to the restaurant for a day to learn about cooking and serving customers.
Even though she’s involved with cooking and serving others each day, Rasmussen said she still enjoys cooking at home. “I can make something pretty fast that’s good,” she said.
A south Minneapolis native, Rasmussen attended Southwest and Holy Angels high schools and was gearing up for a career in social work. She worked at St. Joseph’s Home for Children and also Catholic Charities.
Having employees she can trust at the restaurant has allowed Rasmussen to serve stints as president of Twin West Chamber of Commerce, and also a term on the Golden Valley Planning Commission. She has been active with Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP) in Plymouth and the state restaurant association, as well. She has served on the YMCA board of directors. “I am a lifelong supporter of the Y,” she said. “They do so much with youth development and leadership training with young adults.
For its 75th anniversary in 1996, Betty Crocker chose 75 women from across the country as the inspiration for a new portrait, and Rasmussen was one of them.
Wendy Sharpe is a lifelong nurse who founded the North Memorial Health Care’s Women’s Center in 1989 and worked there for 10 years, was a hospice nurse case manager for North Memorial for six years, and has worked as an RN case manager for United Health Group.
She also worked on starting North Memorial’s Safe Journey program.
After retiring from full-time work in 2014, Sharpe has continued to work part-time for United Health Care.
A Minnesota native and 23-year resident of Golden Valley, Sharpe has one son and four grandchildren. A year ago, her oldest grandson died in a car accident.
“I love working,” she said. “It’s really been a blessing. Working as a part-time contractor now doesn’t have all the stresses of everyday work, and it’s flexible. It’s challenging. I really like it.”
She has been a chairwoman and member of the alumni board at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing for six years.
The March of Dimes named Sharpe Minnesota Nurse of the year in Case Management in 2013. She also was given a Sages of Clinic Services award by the Center for Nursing Advancement at United Health Group in 2013, was volunteer of the year for Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency in 2007 and was named one of the Women of Achievement by the Twin West Chamber of Commerce in 1998.