A store manager who has been with Walmart in Van Buren for 26 years retired this month.

Jeff Mathis has retired after 35 years as a manager with Walmart, with 26 of those years in Van Buren. A retirement party was held at the Van Buren Walmart on June 16.

James Phillips, marketing manager for Walmart, hosted the event.

“I really really appreciate you, and I know that everyone in this room appreciates you and everything you do for their careers and for Walmart,” Phillips told Mathis.

About 100 associates and managers gathered in a back room of Walmart for the party, where they told stories of working with Mathis and how his leadership impacted their career.

Brian Wallace, a marketing manager in Oklahoma, worked and trained under Mathis, he said.

“There’s something that Jeff taught me that he didn’t have to teach me,” Wallace said. “He didn’t just teach me how to run a Walmart, he taught me how to run a business, how to control overhead and, most importantly, how to treat my people.

“What you taught me, what you instilled in me, helped me to get to where I am today and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Phillips compared Mathis to a stealth fighter jet when it came to the work he did for Walmart and the support he showed his employees.

“If you know Jeff very well, he’s stealth - he wants to do a great job, but he wants to stay below the radar,” Phillips said.

Mathis gave credit for his success to his associates.

“It’s a big store; if you don’t have good people working for you, you couldn’t do it,” Mathis said. “I’m blessed to have a lot of really good people over the years.”

Mathis was hired by Walmart for management training in Fordyce in 1982 after graduating from the University of the Ozarks.

He was promoted to store manager in 1987 and worked in Mississippi and Kentucky before returning to Arkansas, he said.

During his retirement party, Mathis was presented with a certificate of service by Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman, and several plaques and gifts from Walmart associates.

Retirement is both a happy and sad experience, Mathis said.

“I’m going to miss the associates and the customers, but the day-to-day operations of a supercenter I’m not going to miss,” Mathis said.

Mathis stayed in Van Buren because he enjoyed working there, he said.

“In those 26 years, there were opportunities to do more, to go do other things, but I liked Van Buren. I like the associates and Van Buren is a great place to live,” Mathis said.

Jeff Mathis and his wife Wendy Mathis, who is executive administrative assistant with the City of Fort Smith, will stay in Van Buren. They plan to open a gourmet popcorn shop downtown across from the train depot, he said.

Jeff Mathis told those attending his party that they can expect to continue to see him coming into Walmart to shop.

“I’ve been told I’m now on grocery duty,” Mathis said.