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Market Basket mourns death of its oldest worker, Arthur St. John

Union Leader Correspondent

May 24. 2017 4:02PM
Market Basket bagger Arthur St. John, 96, died this week. (Jason Schreiber)

STRATHAM -- Workers and customers at the Market Basket in Stratham are mourning 96-year-old Arthur St. John, a legendary bagger and the company’s oldest employee, who died Tuesday.

“He had quite a history,” said Dean Clevesy, store director at the Stratham Market Basket.

St. John would have turned 97 on July 28. He was a beloved employee at the store, where he had worked for the past 27 years.

He seemed to live for his job and his two dogs. He was still bagging groceries two to three days a week, putting in 10 to 15 hours, and just recently bought a new Toyota Camry to drive himself to work. He always parked in the same spot.

St. John was forced to take some time off when his hours were cut during the Market Basket ownership battle in 2014, which prompted a fundraising campaign to help him until he could get back to his regular hours.

St. John just wanted to continue bagging groceries, but he got caught up in the fight that began when nonunion employees walked off the job to protest the firing of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Customers boycotted, and rallies attended by thousands were held in support of Arthur T., who was booted amid a family feud with his rival cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and his side of the family.

They bickered over the direction of the successful grocery store chain, but workers and customers remained loyal to Arthur T., who eventually took back control of the company after reaching a buyout deal with the Arthur S. side in response to the protests.

St. John, who lived in Exeter, never thought of himself as someone special, but those with whom he worked and the customers he served certainly did.

“People loved him here,” Clevesy said.

Some customers would wait in a longer line just because they wanted to chat with St. John.

“I admired him for just getting up, coming in here and doing the job,” said Glenn Bergeron, a customer from Greenland who often wondered if he would want to be bagging groceries at 96.

St. John was sick from time to time as he grew older, but he remained committed to his job.

He worked just last week.

“People would always ask me, ‘How is Arthur doing? I haven’t seen him.’ I’d tell them, “Oh, he took last week off,” Clevesy said.

But it was rare that St. John skipped work. He would show up even when the weather was miserable.

“That guy would come in in a snowstorm. You’d have to tell him not to come in. He was a real trouper,” Clevesy said.

Employees attached a red rose to a column inside the store with a sign that read, “R.I.P. Arthur. We Will Miss You,” below a picture of St. John holding his birthday cake from a party held at the store on his 96th birthday last summer.

“He was just amazing. He was always kind. He just did his job,” said customer Pat Mullen, who’s been a Market Basket shopper for 53 years.

Customer Wayne Raymond of Newfields was also always impressed to see St. John working so hard at his age. “I think it helps people, when they get up there in age, to get out and keep going,” he said.

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