Gerald Joyce retired from J.C. Penney in 1984, and now, 36 years later, he is getting ready to do it again.
Joyce – his full name is F. Gerald Joyce, but he goes by Gerry – is getting ready to retire from the Grand Forks chapter of the Senior Core of Retired Executives (SCORE), the volunteer business counseling and mentoring group that assists fledgling business owners with getting their ideas off the ground. Joyce, now 96, has for decades volunteered in communities where he lived. He credits his commitment to community service to something his mother told him when he was a child.
“What it really gets back to, when I was growing up, kids would say ‘I want this and I want that,’” Joyce told the Herald. “My mother would say, ‘You know we're struggling to provide your needs, and your wants will have to wait, and remember, it’s better to give than to receive.’ That stuck with me when I got into adulthood.”
Joyce attended a pre-retirement conference while working at J.C. Penney to learn what he could do after he retired. One of those ideas was SCORE. Joyce had a friend in Minnesota who volunteered with the group, and he decided to get involved. The group, at that time, looked very different from what it does today.
There was no office in 1984 for the four SCORE mentors who volunteered then, so Joyce used his connection with the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce to secure office space in the downtown Chamber building. A friend, Joyce said, donated office furnishings to help set up shop.
The office bounced around Grand Forks for years until Steve Moser, a SCORE mentor and former associate dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at UND, helped the group move into the Center for Innovation on campus in early 2019. Joyce took on the role of office manager, a job he created for himself, to help arrange the schedules of the 29 mentors who now work there.
“We got so busy that we need an office manager,” Joyce said, of that job. “This is getting so big that somebody has got to be in charge, and I'd like to do that because I know how to do stuff like that.”
Moser said Joyce came up with other ideas, such as contacting past clients and asking if they need additional help.
“That was something we really hadn't done before he mentioned that,” Moser said.
Joyce hasn’t limited his community service to SCORE. He joined the Kiwanis Club in 1955 and continues to be a member. He has volunteered at Holy Family Church for the last 35 years, has served on chambers of commerce in multiple communities, as well as on numerous other boards and committees. In 2009, he received the Henry Havig Award – Greater Grand Forks’ business community’s most prestigious award – from the Chamber.
In 1984, the year he first retired, he was asked to run for City Council. He won, served one term on the council, and said a Herald article about his retirement from J.C. Penney made him identifiable to voters when he was campaigning.
“They'd say, ‘Oh, you were the guy who was in the paper,’ so I think that was a lot of free advertising I got, so people knew who I was,” Joyce said.
It was J.C. Penney that brought Joyce to Grand Forks in 1972, when the retail store was located downtown. Six years later, the store moved to the new Columbia Mall. 32nd Avenue South, Joyce recalled, was a gravel road at that time.
Coming to Grand Forks was Joyce’s last stop with J.C. Penney. He started with the company in the early 1940s in Emmetsburg, Iowa, his home town. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, where he was stationed at bases around the country and in Germany, he returned to the company and worked at stores in South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota.
Joyce is set to once again retire on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at a private party. He told the Herald that SCORE is well-positioned to continue its work, and he won’t lack for things to do in retirement.
“My energy level is not like it used to be,” Joyce said. “SCORE is in good hands, and I think it's time to just take it easy. I have a lot of flowers around my place, and I kind of have a gift for writing. I do a lot of writing stories about our family, stuff like that. I won't get bored.”
Joyce lives in Grand Forks with Mary, his wife of 68 years. He has six children, 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.