There are two ways to get a pick-me-up at the Dillons East Starbucks: drinking caffeine and talking to barista Shirley Wilson.
“When I first started down there, this one lady came in,” Wilson said. “She was so grumpy, she never spoke, never said hi, never smiled. In two weeks, I had her smiling, and she was talking to me.”
Wilson joked she “probably talks too much,” but she has fun. She said it’s important for her to smile and be friendly.
Wilson, who celebrated her 80th birthday on Dec. 28, works five mornings a week.
“That’s just right,” she said. “I get up and go to work early and get off by 10, and I have the rest of the day.”
Wilson has been a Starbucks barista since 2003 after retiring as the K-State Student Union storekeeper, which she did for almost 21 years.
“I retired and was off a whole 11 days, and went back to work at Starbucks,” she said.
Wilson started at a Starbucks in the K-State Student Union and moved to the Dillons East Starbucks in 2005.
“I like people,” Wilson said. “I like to talk. I like to get up early in the morning, so that I don’t veg. If I had retired and didn’t work, I would probably have slept late and all that type of stuff.”
Wilson is the oldest of five children and a lifelong Manhattanite, who moved to the city with her parents when she was 6 months old.
Wilson has experienced many significant moments in Manhattan’s history.
Wilson went through the 1951 flood, which she said put nearly 7 feet of water in her family’s old home on Colorado Street. A 1957 graduate of Manhattan High School, she was a part of the last class to graduate from the east campus before the new building opened.
The population has grown from 11,659 people in 1940 when Wilson was a child to more than 50,000 today.
Wilson said she loves that more people are calling Manhattan home.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I love seeing so many people. I’m a people person.”
Wilson laughed when thinking about her love of Manhattan.
“It’s so funny because growing up, I wanted to leave Manhattan so bad because I had been here so long,” she said.
Wilson said she had envisioned moving somewhere bigger like Kansas City or Topeka.
“But when I got married, I thought, ‘Nah. I want to stay in Manhattan,’” she said.
Wilson married her late husband, Ron, a few weeks after graduating high school. He died in 1988.
Wilson has three children, Glen, who lives in St. George, Nancy Perret-Gentil, who lives in San Antonio, and Dale, who lives in Colorado Springs; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Perret-Gentil said her mom would make homemade clothes for her dolls out of old clothing. She said her mom also would hang clothes to dry even in the winter because they didn’t have a dryer.
“I remember thinking that took a lot of gusto,” she said. “It’s tough to do that.”
With her family spread out, Wilson makes annual trips to San Antonio and Colorado Springs. She takes the latter trip in her car by herself.
“I usually drive in the summer because they won’t let me drive at Christmas anymore,” she said.
The solo road trips to Colorado have been a point of debate among the family.
Perret-Gentil said one of her brothers doesn’t want her to drive at all. She said her mom asked her opinion.
“I said, ‘If you want to do something, you’re going to do it regardless,’” Perret-Gentil said.
Perret-Gentil said her mom has always been a very active person, so it’s not surprising that she’s still working at 80.
“She’s full of life at her age,” she said. “She’s eager to go with whatever is going on and participate.”
Wilson serves as a caregiver for her youngest sister; attends University Christian Church; participates in two organizations: Fraternal Order of Eagles Auxiliary 2468 and Harmony Rebekah Lodge 689; eats lunch with five women every Wednesday at Wendy’s; and walks on a trail near her house or in Manhattan Town Center, depending on the weather.
“I used to bowl, but I don’t do that anymore,” she said.
Wilson said it’s important for her to stay active.
“Of course it helps your body,” she said. “It really does. It sure helps your mind because Starbucks uses so much memory.”
With that belief, Wilson continues to work and put smiles on people’s faces.
“Even though I’m old, the closer you stay to young people, you don’t feel so old,” she said.