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It's just past dawn on another December morning.

In Twin City homes, kids and their parents ready for school. Others are trudging into the kitchen for a first bite of a new day. Others might still be entrenched within the cozy enclave of their bed linens.

Not Dorothy Baer.

Outside of her east side Bloomington home on a cold winter morn, the garage door already is going up and out backs a black Honda Accord.

Even if the sun has barely begun another shift, Dorothy is well into hers, en route to Bloomington's Eastland Mall where she'll first walk two miles and then begin her job there, eight hours, until another dusk.

"I've been trying to cut back ... at least a little," she says. "But Christmas is such a busy time at Kohl's and I especially love my job when it's busy. I don't like to be just standing around."

Ever.

Dorothy Baer?

She is 88, working apparently until she is 188. Unless that's too soon.

A cornerstone at Kohl's since its opening in Bloomington 32 years ago ("I helped with the store's set-up"), Dorothy mans the cash register at the store's entryway to the mall.

Standing there for so many shifts, for so many years, she is widely known as a smiling, upbeat, ever-live-long beacon to other shoppers every weekday ... well, except on Fridays.

"That's when I get my hair done," she explains.

Even her hair might be a bit emblematic.

It's "Kohl" black.

Oh ... her! you say. Oh, I know her! you add.

So does just about everyone else.

Not long ago, in the waiting area at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, on the way to visit a daughter, Dorothy was sitting when a troupe of travelers walked past. That's when a teen looked over and said to her mother, "Oh look — there's the lady from Kohl's!"

"I just had to laugh," beams Dorothy.

The other morning, while in the midst of her morning romp around the mall's walking grid, a man stopped to ask her, "Did Kohl's close?"

"Why no," said Dorothy. "Why do you ask?"

"Because you're not working ... I didn't know you didn't work."

A lifelong Central Illinoisan, a child of the Depression, growing up on a farm between Congerville and Carlock, it was there, milking the cows at daybreak after her older brother, Bob, joined the Army, that she gained her work ethic.

For 52 years thereafter, she was married to Ray, a longtime Eureka Co. employee.

Thirteen years ago, he passed. But that only convinced Dorothy to pick up her own pace. "My faith in God, and the love and support of my four wonderful kids (Steve, Sandy, and twins, Brad and Brenda) and my 11 grandkids is what keeps me going," she says. "They have made me what I am today." 

And that's, yes, busy.

Her things-to-do list looks like an Exxon ink spill — church activities, concerts, programs with friends, day trips, card games ("Dorothy l-o-v-e-s to play cards," confides a niece, Litta Dennis, of nearby Washington).

At Panera Bread, where she coffees, Dorothy is known simply "Mrs. Kohl." A Cubs fan on a life sentence, she was another of those up way too late on recent nights of October. "I couldn't miss that," she says.

"I worry about my mom," says son Steve Baer, 58, Dorothy's oldest. "I mean, some day she may even think of retiring ... then what?"

"Over my own 18 years here," says Mark Moran, general manager of the Kohl's store, "Dorothy is one of the most friendly, courteous, loving ladies I have encountered. And she does a great job. So many loyal shoppers come in to see her. For the rest of us, she’s sort of like a loving grandma."

Of her children, one is in Texas, another in Chicago, another in Wisconsin, with another living on the original family farm near El Paso.

A son-in-law is, by day, CEO of Harley-Davidson, the world famous motorcycle maker based in Milwaukee, so one Christmas perhaps Dorothy will get her own Harley to rumble around town.

At her age of 88, we are only kidding, of course.

Maybe.

In the meantime it's Christmas and, with family in town, here's breaking news: Dorothy plans to take Monday and Tuesday off.

"But I'll work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday," she says. "I'll need to get in my hours."

It's a Baer necessity.

Merry Christmas.

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