A smiling face behind the counter at the Canal Winchester Dairy Queen on West Waterloo Street is known to many who frequent the business.

Heather Runkle, now general manager at the DQ, has been greeting customers for more than two decades. Along the way, the 41-year-old mother of two has helped many teens who are preparing for the next step in life, whether it be college or a career.

"It's a very tight-knit family and sometimes I know a little too much about their lives," said Runkle, who is celebrating 25 years with the Dairy Queen owned by Audra and Ken Morley.

A sign outside the business announces the milestone for Runkle, and the Dairy Queen will sell 25-cent cones on Tuesday, Sept. 19, in her honor.

"We get some great people who work here, and they'll stay, even when they go away to college and come back over winter break and during the summer," Audra Morley said. "We have people tell us that Heather's raised more kids than anybody."

Runkle was 16 when she began begging the previous owners for work.

The Morleys purchased the business in 1993, in partnership with Audra's parents, Rick and Linda Bepler, who at one time owned several Dairy Queens in the area.

At that point, Runkle was thinking about life after high school.

Not wanting to continue school, she had another opportunity put in front of her.

"I talked to Audra's dad about it, and he said, 'Well, what about running the Dairy Queen?' " Runkle said.

Over time, she was given more responsibilities and today schedules 40 employees who are juggling many other obligations with school, athletic events and extracurricular activities.

"I try to never let them miss anything," Runkle said. "I think that's important in their life. I've worked homecomings and proms and football games. It's important. I always tell them we'll figure it out."

The business literally has become a family affair for Runkle, whose 15-year-old daughter, Grace, and 12-year-old daughter, Reese, also work at the Dairy Queen. Runkle's mother worked there part-time for 10 years, and her father still can be spotted helping during busy periods.

The Morleys also are like family, Runkle said. They attended her wedding 20 years ago to her husband, Chis, and Audra was there for the birth of Runkle's first child.

Runkle predicts there will be more memories to make with her Dairy Queen family.

"I'm still young," she said. "I've got a lot of Blizzards left in me."

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