Sharon Grover was running errands Thursday near Olympus High School when she saw a familiar white Ford Taurus parked in the corner of the Arby’s parking lot.
Grover pulled into the lot, at the corner of 2300 East and 3900 South, to go in and get a milkshake, because she knew Dorothy Bale would be working.
Bale, 94, was near the door when Grover walked in. They hugged warmly, as neighbors do. Bale has lived in the neighborhood, on the edge where Millcreek meets Holladay, for 63 years; Grover has lived there for 48.
Bale will mark her 25th anniversary working at this Arby’s location Friday. The restaurant’s manager, Cici Salvador, said Bale is a popular presence, working the lunch rush Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“I get a lot of customers who come in when she’s not here, and it’s ‘Where’s Dorothy? Where’s Dorothy?’,” said Salvador. “Even when it takes a little longer to take their order, they wait in line.”
Bale was 69 when she first walked into the Arby’s in 1994. “I just came in and asked if they were hiring,” Bale said.
She’s always liked to work.
She was a senior in high school in Ogden when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, and in 1943 she got her first job in the Ogden Arsenal, and later at a military hospital in Colorado. After the war, she worked three years at the VA hospital in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood.
She met Dennis Bale, a Navy corpsman, in Colorado. They married in 1947, and she followed him to Kansas City, where he studied dentistry. They returned to Utah in 1953, with two daughters, Susan and Denise.
Dennis Bale launched a dental practice in Sugar House, which he maintained for 35 years. Dorothy worked in the practice for 23 years, until they retired in 1988. Sixteen months after retirement, Dennis died of a heart attack, at the age of 66.
Dorothy Bale decided she had to get out and work. “I would not like staying home at all,” she said, So she applied for a job at the Arby’s a mile from her house.
In 25 years, Bale has seen the restaurant go through two remodels and has worked under 21 managers. Salvador, she said, “is one of the good ones.”
The admiration is mutual.
“She’s going, going, going. She never stops,” Salvador said. “You never see her just standing there. She’s like a little bunny.”
Grover, her friend, joked that “this place would never be clean without her.”
Bale works the front of the house, taking orders at the cash register or wiping down tables and the condiments bar. As for the kitchen, where her coworkers slice meats and make the sandwiches, she said, “I don’t want any part of that. I like it up here.”
Bale has seen a lot in her 25 years. Her voice drops nearly to a whisper when she recalls a terrible moment in the restaurant’s history.
“The night that I went home, something told me …” Bale began, then trailed off.
On Jan. 9, 1996, an 18-year-old employee, Richard Lawrimore Jr., and his father, Richard Lawrimore Sr., entered the restaurant at closing time, high on meth, aiming to rob the place. They shot a male employee four times and stabbed him five times, but he smashed a window and escaped. Two young women working there were forced to disrobe and lie on the floor, while the Lawrimores cut their throats with butcher knives. All three victims survived, and the Lawrimores pleaded guilty in a plea deal to charges of attempted aggravated murder. Both men are still imprisoned.
“It was a horrible thing that happened,” Bale said.
Bale prefers to reflect on happier times. “I see a lot of new babies, and a lot of people come in for their birthdays,” she said.
The job, she said, “has kept me busy, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. … I’m not going to leave. I’m going to work as long as they let me.”