Kingsley Mercantile bids farewell to lifelong repairman Fenstermacher

By Zach Jensen,

Recently-retired Will Fenstermacher (left) pictured with Kingsley Mercantile owners Jane and Kerry Kingsley. (Driftless Multimedia photo by Zach Jensen)

Will Fenstermacher of rural Spring Valley has always enjoyed fixing stuff, and for over 45 years until his recent retirement, the refrigeration and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) installer and repairman employed his skills for Kingsley Mercantile in Harmony, Minn. 

Fenstermacher graduated from high school in Spring Valley in 1977 and enrolled in classes at a vo-tech school in Albert Lea; immediately after which he began working for Kingsley Mercantile in 1978, and he’s been there ever since.

“I’ve just always liked fixing things,” Fenstermacher said. “My dad always needed someone else to fix his machinery, and in the late 1970s, when he was paying 17 percent interest on loans, he couldn’t afford to get his machinery fixed. So, I started fixing his machinery for him.

“I didn’t have a torch back then,” he continued. “All I had was a hammer and chisel to cut bolts. When I was 15, I went to town and bought an angle grinder so I could cut stuff with it.”

The lifelong repairman doesn’t remember the first thing he fixed while working for the hardware store in Harmony, but he said it was probably an old refrigerator.

“Not that many people had air conditioners back then,” he said, “and you only needed two parts to fix a furnace; whereas now they’re all different. Back then, there were only three different refrigerants, and now there’s about 40 of them, and carry 11 different kinds in the truck.”

Fenstermacher said another major change he’s seen is in the lifespan of appliances.

“I used to fix most any appliance,” he said. “But, there are a lot of them now that it’s not worth spending the labor on them. Microwaves and dishwashers are getting to be like TVs. You don’t fix them anymore; you throw them away. For a microwave, you might need a $25 part, but you’ll have $200 in labor.”

Looking back on his career, Fenstermacher remembers how when microwaves were first released to the public, many housewives didn’t want them at first, but once they learned how to use the new appliance, they never wanted to live without them.

Over the years, Fenstermacher has worked for three owners at Kingsley Mercantile, and for the last 22 years, he’s worked for Kerry and Jane Kingsley. 

“Will is amazing,” said Jane, who added that Kingsley Mercantile will continue providing all the same services Will has provided in the past, and he’s training his replacements. “When we were thinking about buying the store, I don’t think we would have bought it if Will wasn’t going to stay.”

Will has been married 45 years and has three sons and nine grandchildren with whom he’s looking forward to spending more time, including fishing in the boundary waters of northern Minnesota. 

To celebrate Will’s retirement, Kingsley Mercantile is hosting a retirement open house at The Hall, 35 1st Ave. NW, Harmony, on Saturday, June 22, from 4 to 7 p.m.

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