BAXTER – In 1962, Dwight DeJong built a service station on the corner of Highway F17 and West 64th Street North.
Carrying over the values and traditions of Baxter Oil Company, the business his father, Louie operated since 1928, Dwight’s gas station served motorists from all around the United States as they passed through his beloved hometown.
Little did Dwight know, this corner service station would grow into a Baxter staple, serving more than just gas. Although the corner store now offers hot food, cold drinks and even car washes, the service station has transformed into a home.
“My brother and I washed headlights on cars, swept and cleaned oil displays. We were around all the time, learning how to treat customers,” Bryan DeJong said. “I grew up here. I was 7 or 8 years old. I learned honesty and integrity. Take care of your customers, and they will take care of you.”
Under the ownership of Bryan and his wife Karen, Baxter Oil Company has become a place to enjoy nice conversations, get good eats and of course, fill up the family car.
But the store also known around town as Kountry Korner will soon be going through a major change after DeJong family decided to sell the Baxter staple.
“This decision has not come lightly as the business has been in the family and a staple in the community for the past 90 years,” Bryan said. “As our family was evaluating the future of our Baxter-based businesses, we decided it was time to focus on growing Baxter Comfort Solutions, our heating and cooling business.”
The Baxter couple sold the convenience store to Country Stores of Iowa. The DeJongs said they have been searching for a buyer for some time. After meeting the Baxter couple at a conference and hearing the business was up for sale, Country Stores of Iowa reached out to the DeJongs to purchase the gas station.
After a few conversations, Bryan, a former city council member, felt the Carroll-based company was the right fit to take ownership of the business and help grow his beloved hometown of Baxter.
“We want to see it be good for the town. We want to see the town embrace the new owners, as we know the new owners will embrace the town, support the (Baxter) Bolts and a lot of the local things going on here,” Bryan said. “I am a lifelong resident and Karen has been here for 30 years. We want to see the town do well.”
According to the DeJongs, Country Stores of Iowa is a family-operated business. Bryan said he felt Country Stores of Iowa was a perfect fit, as they share similar family values, which in turn will help continue the legacy the DeJong family has created over the last three generations.
“When we opened up the store part, our son (Dylan) was 3 months old. ... Both of our sons helped us in the store,” Karen said. “After 30 years, you kind of want to step back. We knew we didn’t have anyone who wanted carry on the tradition for (Bryan’s) side of the family. So we found another family.”
The Carroll-based company runs 12 stores across western and central Iowa. Kountry Korner will be the 13th.
A majority of Country Stores of Iowa properties serve small towns like Baxter. Steve Kimmes, CEO of Country Stores of Iowa, said in a press release the company aims to improve the facility while keeping the aspects that have made Kountry Korner a beloved spot for the town of about 1,100.
“Our intention is to retain the current store associates and keep the doors open through the transition,” Kimmes said. “Country Stores of Iowa facilities are located in small, agriculture-based communities and we recognize the importance of supporting community organizations and listening to our customers.”
From retaining the associates to maintaining the small town charm, the couple said preserving much the company was important when they decided to sell the business to Kimmes.
“Employees are like family. Bryan has a small family. All my family is in Minnesota, so this is my family, all the girls and guys that work here,” Karen said. “We can rest assured that those customers that have some reservations will come in here and see a familiar face, and know that it is going to be the same place.”
According to the release, Country Stores of Iowa will take over ownership March 13. The Kountry Korner staff were informed of the transition over the weekend.
“We see this acquisition as an opportunity to continue serving Iowa communities and provide opportunities for our employees to grow and advance their careers,” Kimmes said. “We also recognize the impact the DeJong family has had in this community and look forward to carrying out that tradition in Baxter. ... We are eager to get involved in the community.”
The couple said they still plan to stick around Baxter and stop by the gas station to catch up with the staff, enjoy some jelly doughnuts and fill up the car.
Although the Baxter Oil Company and Kountry Korner sign may be removed at some point in time, the couple said they are confident Kimmes will carry on the legacy the DeJong family has built over the 89 years.
“We are confident the owners are going to continue the traditions that we started and treat the community as we have,” Bryan said. “We still intend to be active in the community.”
Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at email@example.com.