Stater Bros. had a special on hugs at its G Avenue and Main Street store on Thursday.


Kathy Porterfield, who for 32 years made it a point to spread good cheer as she checked out customers' groceries, shared an irrepressible smile, warm embraces and occasional tears during her last day on the job. A few customers who knew about Porterfield's retirement, handed her greeting cards containing words of praise, and co-workers prepared a celebratory buffet feast in the upstairs break room.


Although it wasn't official, it was Kathy Porterfield Day at Stater Bros.


"Anybody up on the Mesa, they know her," said Russ Blewett, who serves on the Hesperia City Council. "She's a sweetheart."


"We've been coming here for so long," said customer Connie Kiss. "I'll miss her."


"She's the leader on customer service," said assistant store manager Aaron Mosher. "She's an outstanding employee. She will be missed."


Porterfield started working at the store in 1979 after transferring from a Chino Stater's.


"This was the first major market in this area," she said.


In fact, the store, which today is considered small, was viewed as rather spacious three decades ago.


"This was the supermarket of its day."


Along her journey, Porterfield has worked for 15 store managers and even more assistant managers, and she's met many thousands of customers.


"I've watched generations grow up."


She also watched prices change and had to learn the codes for scores of products.


"The codes always came easy," she said. "I don't know how long they'll rattle around my head."


When asked the key to outstanding customer service, she offered a few pointers.


"I've learned a lot of people's names. They love that. I'm a pretty bubbly person. And it always pays to be nice to people."


The latter truism became literally true in the early 1990s when a loyal customer named Mary Boone an elderly lady who had carefully saved her money decided to demonstrate how much she appreciated her favorite cashier.


"She gave me and my boys $40,000," Porterfield said. "She opened savings accounts with $1,000 for each of my boys to teach them how to save, and she gave me $38,000. She became like a mom to me."


While the customer's gift was unusual, she reaped numerous internal rewards from her customers by repeating the phrase that became synonymous with her: "Have a happy day."


"You can either be a sourpuss or you can have a smile," she said.


For years, Porterfield has worked the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift with Wednesdays and Sundays off. Now the Apple Valley resident will have more time to enjoy horseback riding and spending time with the families of her sons Mark Porterfield, who is in the Coast Guard, and Chris Epperson, who is serving in the U.S. Navy. She has five grandchildren and another one is on the way, she said.


She and her husband Mark, who was on hand during her last day at her checkout line, have been married for 20 years and will now see other on Saturdays. Porterfield is also considering a part-time position in the food services department of a local school district.


"I've been very blessed to work at Stater Bros. I wouldn't have done a thing differently. I'm sad, but I'm happy too."


The G Avenue and Main Street Stater Bros. store is scheduled to close by next January with a new "Blue Ribbon" Stater Bros. opening across the street in the current Albertsons location. Lee Evans is the manager of the G and Main store.