As she stands behind the Schnucks meat counter, all that can be seen of 5-foot-5 Virginia Marshall is a shy smile, two blue eyes that never leave yours and neatly curled dark-blond hair under a black Certified Angus Beef hat adorned with pins.
She’ll let you pick out your meat cuts, instruct you on how to cook the meat or suggest a recipe. For example, trout is best marinated in lemon juice and butter then baked for 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees then turned down to 350. One customer came back asking Virginia for this recipe: “It was just so flaky and good,” the woman reported.
As she wraps your selections in white butcher paper with an expertise perfected during 10 1/2 years behind the counter, Virginia will ask you about your day or how the weather is. “I love the public,” she said. “It’s my friends, my family.” She places a price sticker on the wrapped meat to seal the paper and then hands the package over the counter to you — sometimes with a soft pat on your hand and always with a “thank you” and a “have a nice day, now.”
Between visits with customers, Virginia neatens up her window. While attending high school in Clinton, Virginia worked for J.C. Penney Co. Inc. “That was one of my favorite jobs because it was trimming the windows and the interior,” she said. Now Virginia trims the meat window with vegetables; she cuts red onions and bell peppers in bright yellow, red and green into flower-like shapes and places them just so in the ice among the meats. By the way, she met Mr. Penney himself during her senior year of high school and received a signed copy of a book he had written.
Virginia restocks fresh meat cuts into their assigned rows and prepares stuffed chicken breasts and chicken cordon bleu. But she is best known for her shish kabobs. To fellow Schnucks employees and meat counter customers, she’s the Kabob Queen. “Oh my goodness, that’s my first name, middle name, last name,” Virginia said, pressing the palm of her hand against her cheek as she blushed. “I never like to be out because I never like to disappoint anybody.”
She makes both marinated and nonmarinated chicken and beef kabobs as well as a vegetarian kabob. There’s no secret recipe to them — just large chunks of meat, fresh vegetables and a marinade made from Italian dressing, lemon juice and garlic powder.
Having celebrated her 72nd birthday on Friday, Virginia said she’s Schnucks’ oldest employee. She may have a few wrinkles and a pair of trifocals to suggest it, but her signs of aging were well earned by a life lived youthfully even today. The wrinkles can be attributed to summers on lakes slalom skiing — that’s water-skiing on one ski — and the glasses are the only thing keeping Virginia from renewing a private pilot’s license that she held for years after first earning one in 1959. One of those pins on her hat is her pilot’s wings. “I worked hard for that one,” she said.
Seven years ago, Virginia fell and had three discs removed from her back. But she walks a mile and a half every day on a treadmill in her home. She also does her exercises, mostly stretching routines prescribed by a doctor after her fall. If you ask her, she’ll demonstrate her hard-earned flexibility — she can bend straight over and place both palms on the floor without even a wince.
“I just praise the dear Lord every day that I have the health to be here,” she said.