Tuesday, October 13, 2009
sponsored by Graue Inc.

Personality of the Week

Serving up generous portions of community service: Elaine Aue and the Lincoln Culver's

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[October 13, 2009]  Elaine Aue is an emotional person. She isn't the kind of person you would want to watch a sad movie with unless you had a box of Kleenex all to yourself. She would have dibs on her own. But unlike many people who wear their heart on their sleeve, Aue also does what she can to help all the local causes that make her emotional.

Before 11 a.m. the popular eatery has customers ready to get a great lunch.

Elaine and the Lincoln Culver's are consistently involved with donating 10 percent of the store's revenue during specific periods of the eatery's day. If it seems to patrons that this is a frequent event at the Culver's, they would be right because the store is involved with helping a great many special causes in our community.

In the case of Relay for Life and the American Red Cross, Culver's devotes an entire day each month to their fundraising needs. Many businesses would consider that enough community involvement, but not Aue. Her store also has special hours once a month for Habitat for Humanity and the Boy Scouts. And she says she also offers all the local schools and church youth groups a day each month to help collect funds for their causes.

Aue is an owner of the Lincoln Culver's, along with her brother Douglas, who actually was the force behind Elaine opening this local food establishment. Elaine was a gas pipe fitter for AmerenCILCO, but she knew the hard labor wasn't going to be easy in later years. When she contracted skin cancer from being outdoors so much, she knew she needed another occupation.

When her oldest brother approached her about being partners in a Culver's, Elaine knew little if anything about the franchise. That changed when she had a chance to visit with Craig Culver. "I saw right away how family-oriented he was, and I just knew right then I wanted to be involved with Culver's," Aue said.

On March 26, 2007, the Culver's opened their doors to the community, and they have been opening their hearts and their cash register to causes ever since.

Elaine is married to Steve Aue, a letter carrier who is known to almost everyone in town. Before Elaine arrived at the store, Steve gave some thoughts on his wife. "She has a heart of gold, that's for sure. She always sees the good in people," he said. "She is always willing to give people a chance."

Elaine laughed when she arrived and explained that it was she who got Steve his job with the U.S. Postal Service. "Steve was in construction," she said. "I told him I wouldn't marry him unless he got a steady job, so he went to work for the post office." Steve took that job and life recommendation seriously, and the couple has raised two children, Kristan, who is 21, and Nathan, 19.

Elaine comes by her involvement in causes genetically as well as by observation as a youth. Her parents are Wally and Tonita Reifsteck, and according to Aue, "they were always doing something to help. They were workaholics. They were always doing something for someone."

On Saturday, Aue and Culver's are doing something special even by the store's high standards of community help. All day, from open to close, 25 percent of the store's sales will go to a fund for the Gee family. The fund will be used to defray funeral expenses incurred in the tragedy as well as help with medical expenses relating to the care of 3-year-old Tabitha Gee, who is under hospital care.

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Aue says the Methodist churches in Beason and Lincoln are handling the fundraiser, but it was she who made the generous offer.

Dayle Badman, the minister at the Beason United Methodist Church, says Aue called her in regard to this special fundraiser. Badman says Aue checked with corporate and they approved the entire day at 25 percent of sales to go to the fund for the Gee family.

"I was flabbergasted at her generosity when she asked me if we would like to do this," Badman said. "I'm just thrilled at her generosity to have this all day. Hopefully we will have a good turnout."

The fund is being administered through the larger First United Methodist Church of Lincoln, and that church's youth group will help work tables on Saturday.

Pastor Mark Kaley at First United Methodist in Lincoln also is inspired by Aue's gesture. "The fund is going very well," he said. "What Culver's is doing is a really generous offer. And we are very grateful."

Elaine explained that the entire Gee family tragedy has troubled her from day one, and she felt compelled to try to do something to help. Getting emotional, Elaine talked about how proud she is of her staff. "We put up a volunteer sign-up sheet for any employees that wanted to help this coming Saturday," she said. "Not only did several employees sign up who were off that day, but others who will be on duty that day have volunteered to work off the clock so that the fund can generate more revenue. A lot of these employees are high school kids."

Aue has a strong relationship with her employees, and that can be seen every day at the store. Of the 30 employed, Aue proudly says that seven of them have been with the store from day one: an unusual if not unheard of percentage in the industry.

Fanning her eyes after talking about how proud she is of her staff, Aue said that she isn't sure why, but although she is much shyer than her parents, she enjoys meeting people one on one. "I enjoy waiting on people," she said. "I enjoy making people feel good."

It is because Elaine Aue and the Lincoln Culver's have made us feel good, as well as proud to have her in our community, that we make her and the store this week's Personality of the Week.


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