Dolores Kizima was a shy, farm wife who had to be coaxed into hosting her first Tupperware party in 1962. Fifty years later, she's accumulated a collection of awards for her sales achievements and continues to sell Tupperware from her Minot home.
"It's kind of my therapy," Kizima said. "Obviously, I love these products, and the company is wonderful. There was such gratitude for every little thing you did. You couldn't help but want to do your best simply because you were treated with such gratitude."
Kizima's daughter, Melody Miller, who sold Tupperware in Washington state for a time, shared at Kizima's 50th anniversary celebration with Tupperware that perseverance, attitude and customer service were traits that she learned watching her mother.
Dolores Kizima shows off her anniversary cake at an event held in February to celebrate her 50 years with Tupperware.
Kizima made a difference in the lives of customers and consultants whom she mentored because of her kindness and character, said Karlene Elfstrum of Fargo, who along with her husband, Ken, serves as Kizima's Tupperware distributor.
"Dolores is a gift to Tupperware because of her phenomenal customer service, which is a attitude really," Elfstrum said. "It's not so much about the Tupperware lady as it is her. She's just a phenomenal human being."
Kizima's first experience with Tupperware came when her sister gave her a sugar storage container for her birthday. Impressed with the company's storage products, she stopped by the Tupperware booth at the North Dakota State Fair in 1961 and met distributor Beulah Westra. Westra coaxed her to host a party, which Kizima finally agreed to do as long as it wasn't until after Christmas.
Kizima held her first Tupperware party on Feb. 22, 1962.
"I was so bashful when I started," she said. "I was just going to stay in it for a month. All I wanted was money to buy a pair of drapes."
She remembers building her business by nervously knocking on doors in the mobile home park near her Minot home, where workers were living while working on the Air Force missile sites. She came away that day having booked five parties with park residents.
"I was so happy I cried all the way home," she said. "To this day I don't know if they really wanted Tupperware or if they just felt sorry for me."
She earned the money for her drapes but didn't stop there.
The flexible job fit into her lifestyle as a mother with four small children, ages 5 to 8. Her husband, Pete, wasn't keen on her starting a business, though. He thought selling Tupperware might be too much on top of the work she already had on the farm.
"So I had to prove to him I could do that, too, and I did," she said.
In her 50 years, she has worked under four different distributors. Becoming a manager in 1967, she has overseen a number of consultants over the years. She traveled an area from Williston to Bottineau to assist consultants at Tupperware parties.
"When I first started, for many years, we were expected to have five parties a week," she said. "When I started, it definitely was a social thing. People looked forward to getting together."
Kizima placed among the top 10 sales people in Tupperware several times, ranking second in the nation twice in the 1980s. Because of her sales successes, she received the use of a company car for nearly 25 years. She received numerous trophies as well as cruises, a piano and other furniture, washer, dryer, refrigerator and other household products along with vacation trips that included the World's Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia. A photo of Kizima was featured on the back of one of the company catalogues a rare honor.
"I have had more recognition than I deserve," she modestly states. "I don't take credit for it all myself. I had wonderful girls that worked with me."
Some of her consultants were with her 10 to 20 years, and they all became like a second family to her.
Today, Kizima, 82, has only a few who work as consultants with her because she puts less focus on parties. Instead, she sets up at vendor shows or sells out of her home when customers contact her. She liked the parties as a means of sharing ideas on how to use the Tupperware but understands that times have changed and people don't have the time for parties that they once did.
The 64-year-old company itself has experienced change, moving into online ordering and to microwavable products. Kizima no longer has to travel to Bismarck to pick up products and then sort them for delivery. Now products come pre-sorted to her door.
Tupperware phased out the luggage, towels and other items that it used to give as consultant gifts, replacing it with gifts of Tupperware. Years ago, getting a set of sheets as a gift was special because money was hard to come by for such things, Kizima said. Now, what consultants want is free Tupperware, and that can motivate some to get into sales.
"I would give up a lot of things before I would give up my Tupperware," Kizima said. "To me, it's a time saver and a food saver."
She's particularly proud of the company's lifetime guarantee on products. She still has her cake carrier that doubles as a bread-mixing bowl, her giant canister and a hamper that go back to her earliest days with Tupperware.
Because selling Tupperware enabled her to set her own work schedule, she was able to care for a sister, brother and her husband in their later years.
"Family has always come first to me," she said.
Kizima, a Powers Lake native, worked in the circulation department of the Minot Daily News for several years until shortly after her marriage in 1953. The Kizimas farmed near Douglas and later lived for a short time in Florida and in Max and Minot. They bought a farm south of Minot, where they lived for 32 years until moving into Minot about six years ago.
Her husband, who died in August 2011, became an ardent supporter of her work with Tupperware. He encouraged her to continue when family commitments caused her to consider retiring because he understood the important role that the Tupperware business played in her life.
"If it has done anything for me, it certainly has helped me with self esteem. I found out I could do things I never dreamed I could," Kizima said.
"It's natural for me now," she said of selling. "If you like your product, it's not hard. All you have to do is be honest and say it as it is. You don't need to have any gimmicks."