From leprechaun to Santa, Mack Gilbert makes us smile
By Doug Lowe
EPHRAIM—As Mack Gilbert says, “I’ve only lived in the area for around three years now, but feel like I have friends everywhere in Sanpete County.” In fact, Gilbert is not exaggerating. The cheerfulness and human warmth that he brought to his work at Walmart in Ephraim, both as Santa and as a greeter, has made him remarkably well known and well liked in a very short time.
When Mack Gilbert and his wife, Barbara, moved to Ephraim some three years ago, they had no idea of how popular his job at Walmart would soon make him. It is a surprising saga that began the Christmas before last. That’s when he was asked to switch from working in Walmart’s paint and hardware department to put his considerable people skills to work for a few weeks as the store’s Santa Claus.
During his single season spent as Walmart’s Santa Claus, Gilbert became so popular with children, as well as their parents and other adults, that when the holidays had past, the store’s manager, Blaine Hardy, asked him to work as one of the greeters at the front door. Gilbert agreed, and thanks to his outgoing, playful personality it wasn’t long before kids as well as adults were happily doing a high five with him as part of the welcoming ritual that he introduced. It was a ritual that most Walmart customers came to enjoy during the 15 months Gilbert worked up front as a greeter.
In fact, Gilbert became such a popular fixture that some children became upset when he wasn’t there to greet them. According to Gilbert, “More than one child, got upset when I wasn’t up front to greet them. And, when some would see me later on they would come running to me so fast, for a high five, that mom or dad would have a hard time catching up with them.”
Wistfully, Gilbert recalls, “It as a great job.” Sadly, after a little more than a year working in that job, the position of greeter was eliminated by a new top-level Walmart policy decision reached in the corporate headquarters far from Ephraim. People here, and in many places across the USA, were unhappy with the decision. But it was implemented despite protests and even lawsuits from disabled greeters who claimed the move discriminated against them.
Unlike many other greeters, Gilbert was fortunate enough to continue having a job at Walmart. The store’s top manager, Hardy, valued the fact that “people of all ages are drawn to Mack’s warmth and friendliness.” So, Gilbert was transferred to fill an opening in housewares. That move did not stop the store’s customers, young and not so young, from seeking out “the high-five guy.”
Over time, the ritual grew to include a series of playful single and double hands slaps, then soft and hard slaps that, according to Gilbert, “even ladies in their 50s and 60s seem to seek out and enjoy.” Then, Gilbert got sick.
Before long, as his sickness got worse it was discovered that he had a form of bone cancer. Up in Salt Lake last week, Gilbert says he had, “some kind of bone biopsy to help the doctors figure out how to best treat me.” So, this holiday season, Gilbert and his wife, Barbara, can’t help but wonder what the biopsy results will reveal in the New Year.
Upbeat and positive, as usual, Gilbert is hopeful that the new treatments developed in recent years will be exactly what his conditions calls for. Gilbert’s good friend, Spring City native Jeff Edmunds, and his wife, Carol, see themselves as among the oldest friends of Mack and Barbara Gilbert, because they two couples were neighbor in Salt Lake before the Edmunds returned to Jeff’s home town of Spring City three years ago. That’s when Mack and Barbara also decided to leave Salt Lake and come live in Sanpete.
When the Gilbert and the Edmunds first became neighbors, years ago in the Salt Lake area, both men owned and operated a successful small business. Gilbert and his crew had been installing cell towers (some as tall as 1,600 feet) all over Utah and nearby states, when “the jobs got so far away that we had trouble making it home frequently enough.” When Gilbert and his men decided it was time for a change of occupation, Edmunds hired his friend and neighbor as the dispatcher for his trucking operation.
According to Edmunds, “After seeing photos of Mack hanging on a rope hundreds of feet above ground, during a cell tower installation, I wasn’t sure how he’d like my more down to earth business, but he turned out to be a great employee.” For Edmunds, the decision to return to his Spring City roots turned out to be good for both couples, though a slowdown in the trucking business made Gilbert look for another way to keep himself occupied besides truck dispatching.
That is when the energetic, hard-working Gilbert decided to take a job at Walmart. The rest is history. Exactly the story will go from here remains to be seen. For a while, at least, Gilbert’s battle with cancer is preventing him from working.
When Walmart manger Blaine Hardy was asked about his former employee, Hardy’s response was quick and emphatic, “He is NOT a former employee, he is an employee taking a leave of absence due to health problems. I’ve never had an employee with more integrity and positive energy as Mack Gilbert, and I am hoping to have him back soon.”
In that regard, Hardy is just one of many people whose wishes for this particular holiday season includes hoping and praying for Gilbert’s return as a shining example of happy human interaction in a world that needs all the warmth it can get.
Mack Gilbert’s longest-term friend in the area, Jeff Edmunds, has the hope that some Sanpete residents who have enjoyed making a connecting with Gilbert at Walmart in the past will take note of his current situation and send him season’s greeting and get well wishes at P.O. Box 52, Ephraim, UT 84627.