Local business owner follows in her husband’s footsteps
■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
All my life I’ve been reminded by someone that a woman has more to her than being a homemaker. I recently found out that the old adage means more than mere words.
On February 15, one of Hemet’s most beloved individuals passed away. Rick Truskowski, owner of True Value Hardware in Hemet for many years, was known to everyone in the valley for his generosity and patriotism. We mourn him and miss him still.
However, the story didn’t end with his demise. His widow, Carolyn, picked up the ending of one era and the beginning of another.
“Five years ago,” she began, “it was our 20th wedding anniversary and Rick went all out preparing for a big celebration in Las Vegas to see one of his favorite comedians. He bought me a lovely present, made reservations, and we were ready to leave when he came down with what we thought was a stomach ache. At the hospital he was diagnosed with an esophagus problem, which we would later learn was a bad liver.”
Carolyn continued by saying, “He went on a strict diet; eating the proper foods, losing weight and cutting out all alcoholic beverages. For exercise, he walked his two dogs every evening after work and on weekends. For five years, everything seemed to be okay.”
Then, in early 2017 Rick didn’t feel well and checked into Hemet Valley Medical Center, to be on the safe side. From there he was transferred to UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center where the truth was revealed. Rick needed a liver transplant. Mr. Truskowski was placed on a transfusion list and the couple returned home to wait. After back and forth between the two hospitals, they were back at UCLA for almost two months.
“I moved into the hospital to be by his side until he was transferred to Tampa Bay
General Hospital in Florida where he had a better chance for a liver transplant. We moved into a house 40 miles north of Tampa and bought a new car so we could drive back and forth to the hospital for his treatment. Finally, he made his last trip to Tampa. Funny how dates are easy to remember when something bad happens in life. Rick passed away in February, the day after our 25th anniversary,” said Mrs. Truskowski.
Faced with packing up all their possessions at their Florida location and driving with Rick’s daughter to Buffalo, New York for his funeral, she was well worn down by the time she returned to Hemet where her mother was looking after their home and Rick’s dogs that he loved so much.
“I had been operating the hardware store long distance by phone and online during
Rick’s long illness, but I didn’t know everything. Rick had a mind that remembered everything in his life and that included how to run the hardware store.”
Carolyn quickly added that their employees were 100 percent diamond pure. “I couldn’t have managed without them. I knew that sooner or later, I would have to take over the store’s operation. There was so much to do in advance. I went through all of Rick’s desk drawers and files to find out how he kept the bookkeeping and other aspects of the business. It was a consuming task. Papers were strewn all over the house.”
She continued, “On the positive side, I knew how to order things for the store because I had been doing that for years. I mostly had to learn the things he did, like accounts payable and taxes… We had a payroll service and I’d been taking care of that online from the hospital. I also needed to transfer money and get set up with the banks, something I hadn’t done previously.”
According to Mrs. Truskowski, it was kind of a “nightmare” because Rick kept all the bank codes and passwords in his head.
“In a small town like ours where everybody knows you it was made easier. While Rick and I were at UCLA, I conducted business from the hospital. I had to learn the codes because if they are incorrectly entered three times online you are locked out of the account. That was another problem for me at first.”
Home and business were not her only problems. They owned racehorses and Carolyn had her own riding horses and they required daily attention. “A few of the race horses were claimed. I gave the other two to Rick’s partners. David Angeloff, a local attorney was one of those partners and was there at all times to assist her as were many of the store’s customers.”
“At home I was miserable. Everything in the house had Rick written all over the place. His trophies and ribbons from Santa Anita. I cried until there were no tears. His dogs moped and still mope around the house. Every knock on the door causes them to raise their ears. I think they still expect him to come back any day. It is hard to get used to not having someone you lived with for thirty years not being there,” Mrs. Truskowski explained.
“Then, you wonder what to do with his belongings. I didn’t want to get rid of anything, but eventually realized that I can’t keep things around that cause me to break down in tears every day. I still have some of his things that I simply can’t part with.”
Their long-time store manager, Randy, decided after the memorial services here that he wanted to retire and move to Indiana with his family. “I had to hire a new manager. Quinn McDonough, who previously worked for us, indicated that he’d like to return. We had a conversation and I decided to hire him to be my new
manager. I knew his family. Quinn is well-qualified, mature and smart. Plus which he comes from a solid background. His grandfather, John McDonough had been President of the Bank of Hemet,” said Carolyn.
According to Mrs. Truskowski, Quinn knows the business and catches on quick. One of their cashiers, Linda, has been a trooper who is also an employee that she can’t imagine doing without. “They’ve all been there for me and I cannot ever express just how important they are in my life.”
She was quick to point out what a great father Rick was to her children as well as his own son and daughter. “They couldn’t have had a better father figure. Rick went to every sports activity, encouraged every hobby the kids indulged in. During summer vacations when Rick’s daughter came to Hemet it was like Disneyland for the kids.”
Rick was a true patriot. “He loved anything to do with the flag…. his Fourth of July and Christmas parties are legend,” claimed Mrs. Truskowski.
Carolyn admits she is not Rick. “He ran the store out of his head. He knew every crook and cranny – what was needed, things we were out of, special orders. I’m still learning how to do all of that.” With Rick gone, I wondered how well she is coping with the business.
“We’ve survived because I’m following in his footsteps. With all the big box stores and two Walmarts in the valley, we still give the best personal service. If you need something and we don’t have it, we’ll find it for you. Service to the public has always been our motto and I’m not about to change that.”
One thing is for sure, Carolyn Truskowski will carry on in Rick’s absence.
When I interviewed her, she was squatting down on the floor checking bottom shelf items that needed to be replenished. Doing what an owner knows has to be done. Yes, this lady certainly is a “True Value” woman. Just sayin’
Rusty Strait is a senior reporter with The Valley Chronicle and can be reached at email@example.com.