Dan's employees are guardian angels for man with special needs

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 2:03 p.m. MDT

Richard Burton has worked at Dan's for 12 years. He has special needs, and the workers at the store have all taken him under their wings. One of those workers is service desk manager Kathy Johnson, who has worked with him for eight years. Saturday will be her last day at the store. In Salt Lake City, May 16, 2012.

Mike Anderson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For more than eight years, Dan’s service desk manager Kathy Johnson has worked with Richard Burton, who has special needs.

They have a special bond that his family is very grateful for, but they were sad to hear that this weekend will be Johnson’s last at Dan’s.

Burton, 62, has been a bagger at Dan’s on 3981 S. Wasatch Blvd. for 12 years. His family said Johnson and all the workers at Dan’s have made them more than co-workers, they are family.

“It’s like guardian angels watch over him,” his sister Bonnie VanderVeur said, “because we know if he’s here at work, he’s safe and they make sure he’s safe.”

The bond between Burton and Johnson started as soon as Johnson started working at Dan’s. “He’s very special to me,” Johnson said. “He’s always giving me a hug here and there, and a high five. That’s what Richard does here, he builds people up.”

Burton loves to come to work, VanderVeur said, and he would even work for free. He fills grocery bags with a smile.

“Most of the customers know him,” Johnson said, “and he’s part of all of our lives. He’s part of our family. We love him to death.”

VanderVeur spoke highly of everyone at Dan’s, especially Johnson. “She stepped up, then everybody else just joined in, and they all watch over him,” she said. “Dan’s has just been remarkable for him.”

His sister said he would rather be at work than take a vacation and said the store is his home away from home. “This is his whole social life, right here at Dan’s,” she said.

While Burton’s family is grateful for the friendship he has with Johnson and the rest of the workers at the grocery store, he has made quite an impression on those around him.

“Dan’s wouldn’t be Dan’s without Richard,” Johnson said. “We love Richard.”

But this weekend will be Johnson's last at the store. When VanderVeur heard that Johnson was leaving, “that made me very sad,” she said. “I know Richard was sad, too, and I know Kathy was sad.”

“He’s a good friend,” Johnson said, getting a little emotional. “It’s gonna be hard for me to leave him.”

Johnson won’t be working there anymore, but that doesn’t mean the friendship is over. She plans to come by and have lunch with Richard fairly often.

E-mail: manderson@desnews.com, vvo-duc@ksl.com

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