For decades, Mary Jo Sullivan was a fixture in Winona at the helm of Shumski's Flooring, a business she purchased from her father in the early 1970s. On Thursday, Mary Jo passed away, leaving behind her the legacy of a woman entrepreneur who paved the way for other women business owners to follow.
Longtime employee Dick DeBoer, who began working at Shumski's as a teen in 1968, said Mary Jo had a knack for remembering nearly everything about what her customers were looking for. "We called her our walking computer," he said. "She remembered practically everything. People would come in and she would remember who they were, what [products they had purchased in the past]. Whenever we were looking for something she would always have the resource or memory. It was just unbelievable; it was uncanny."
Mary Jo's mother ran a clothing store in the Twin Cities before the family moved to Winona, where her dad ran a department store before opening Shumski's near where the Winona Mall now stands. Later, the business moved to East Third Street downtown. As Mary Jo was growing up, those businesses were always a part of her life, which helped instill the strong work ethic that drove Shumski's to success. DeBoer said that even when she wasn't feeling well, she would still make sure to come to work. "Business was first, the number one priority," he said. "She was a lot like her father—she had a really good, solid business head on her shoulders."
Mary Jo loved baseball, loved her family and put great trust in her longtime sales staff. When Mary Jo, a Cotter High School and College of Saint Teresa graduate, bought Shumski's in the early '70s, friends say she became an example for other women who wanted to break into the world of business.
"I think she did help a lot of other women get started," said Carol Drazkowski, who worked as a sales person for 18 years at the store. Drazkowski remembered years ago when interest rates were sky high and borrowing money was hard for every business. Mary Jo had to fight hard to keep Shumski's successful. "She was definitely a fighter," said Drazkowski, remembering how often customers would be surprised to learn that Mary Jo, and not her husband, Jim, or DeBoer, owned the busy store.
For more than 40 years, Shumski's prospered under Mary Jo's leadership, proof that a woman with a strong work ethic and emphasis on customer relationships could rival any male counterpart in the world of business. As friends and loved ones mourn her loss, the memory of the mark she made in Winona will last—one of the women business pioneers whose strength and courage illuminated the path for many others to follow.