Russell McKee sat in a back booth at Stockyards Travel Plaza on Monday, after having told his employees he sold the business.
Though the corners of his eyes remained a little wet following the meeting, he was in good spirits.
“You know, any change is hard,” McKee said. “I’m sad and I’m happy.”
He has sold the travel plaza at 2431 N. 16th St., to Gratz Peters, owner of Pete’s Corp. in Parsons.
“It’s effective the end of the year,” McKee said. “It’s a New Year’s Eve trade. On Jan. 1 it will be a Pete’s Corp. Of course you know Pete’s corporate headquarters is in Parsons. We’ve had some opportunities to sell over the years. We kind of built the thing with the intention of selling it eventually. I was glad when I knew Pete’s Corp. was interested, because it is still a local business, locally owned, and this will still be locally owned.
“I think we’ve been very friendly competitors to the extent we knew the other one was in business to make money to do business but kind of would like to have had that business,” McKee said.
The Stockyards Travel Plaza opened on Nov. 22, 2002.
“We lack 11 days of being here 17 years,” McKee said.
The idea for the store actually came from McKee’s late son-in-law, Brian Anderson, who was married to his daughter, Cami.
“One evening we were at the sale barn when Cami’s first husband Brian was still alive. He stood out in front of the sale barn (Parsons Livestock Market). We wanted him to be involved in our business. He looked up the road and said, ‘We need to build a truck stop up there… That highway (U.S. 400) is going to go by there and we need to buy that land and build a truck stop.’ So, we all got our heads together. We checked the surveys and did about six months of research as to what it would cost to build and decided to do it. It all started one evening just outside the sale barn with a conversation. He got to see it built. He died of cancer at 35.”
McKee said the idea took considerable investment to realize.
“Remember, the bypass wasn’t here when we built this. Back in the day, we invested when we had to buy land on this corner in order to build, versus some opportunities that are given today to people to be given land. We invested,” he said. “We knew it was a little bit of a risk, but we knew the highway was coming and it was worthwhile. The highway has been good to us.”
The business has grown considerably and their investment has paid off through the years.
“I’m not selling it because I have to. I’m selling it because I want to,” he said. “The time to sell a business is when you’re in business and doing good business.
“I fully look for this thing to grow. They will brand it. I think the corner is going to get big,” McKee said. “One thing that Parsons has done, is they have done a pretty good job of keeping Parsons alive. I give them credit for that, and I like to think us being here stopping traffic has helped out a little bit because it does make a difference to the city to have us here. I admire what they have done, and now because they have kept the town alive, this is allowed to develop and put Parsons back on the map again. A lot of these little towns, nothing has been developed at their bypass.”
The community has supported McKee’s business, and he and his family have given much back, such as for years giving meals and gift packs to students making it to state competitions and free meals for veterans.
“We always take pride in doing those kinds of things. I’m not one to talk about what we’ve done. I’m always kind of low key on what we’ve done because we don’t do it for someone to come up and say, ‘Good job.’ We do it because we want to. We are proud of the community and the kids.”
Cami Raschen, his daughter, who has managed the store through the years, will stay on in that position under the new owners.
“They’ve already met with her and she will be part of the new management team,” McKee said.
Raschen has said she knew her father built Stockyards Travel Plaza with the intent to sell one day, and that day has come.
“The day he built it he would have sold it. It’s the way he has been his whole life,” Raschen said. “I’m super excited for him at this time in his life and I’m super excited for who he sold it to, and then a little intimidated by change.”
Raschen said she has met with the new owners several times and she is really excited thinking about the company and how many stores it operates.
“I am so curious as to how they do it. If my dad had more than one store, I don’t know how we would have done it,” she said. “So I’m super excited to be working for them. I respect them, and I’m looking forward to their structure.”
Raschen said she believes the majority of the employees at Stockyards will stay through the transition.
“We’re like a family. I hope we can go into this transition together, with all of them,” she said.
It will be different without her dad popping in all the time, but she knows it was the right time for him.
“I don’t know what else to say except we’re excited about it,” McKee said. “I’m excited to have birthed this baby and watch it grow and it’s just like a kid getting married or going to college or whatever, it’s time to move on.
“Do I have seller’s remorse? When I see the employees and I know they are going to be took care of and they are going to get along, and with this thing, I believe they will do nothing but make it better. As far as for the community of Parsons and for the people who come down the highway, I really believe the new owners will do everything in their power to make it better for this store and the city of Parsons.
“I’m still in the cattle business pretty deep. We just got back from South Dakota. We just spent six weeks up there buying cattle. We still have a home up there. We still spend five to six months up there buying cattle. Of course my ranching operations headquarters are at Edna, and I have cattle around here.
“Everybody says, ‘Are you going to retire?’ Well, I’ve retired about as much as I want to. I like to do what I do. I still want to stay in the cattle business. There is not rocking chair in my future. … We don’t intend to change much of what we’re doing.”