WILLISTON, N.D. – While waiting in line to take a shower at Elite Fitness, Barbara Hylick scolded a man who refused to take off his dirty work boots.
The gym offered her a job on the spot.
The Orlando, Fla., woman later found housing, a car and new friends through connections at work, and now she’s making Williston her home.
“I knew with so many things falling into place for me that it was a confirmation I was supposed to be here,” Hylick said.
Hylick, 50, was managing a restaurant in Florida when her friend who works as a truck driver in North Dakota invited her to visit Williston to check out the job opportunities. She took a vacation to Williston in November to see what it was like.
“I just took that leap of faith and came out,” recalled Hylick.
She stayed in her friend’s RV and was showering at the Williston health club, which is common among the job-seekers and workers who live in campers or their vehicles due to the housing shortage.
The man who was in front of Hylick in line at the front desk claimed his boots cost $700 and refused to leave them in the entryway. The woman behind the desk was a little timid, so Hylick had a confrontation with the man and told him to “Take the boots off or leave.”
The Elite Fitness owner whispered to Hylick, “Would you like a job?”
Hylick worked at the center for three days during her November vacation and said she’d be back in January.
She returned to Florida expecting to put her two-week notice in and train her replacement, but learned that the restaurant she managed would be closing. Hylick had the option to transfer to another restaurant, but she was ready for a change.
Hylick returned to Williston in January and began working as a manager of the fitness center. Within a month, Hylick found a two bedroom, one bathroom basement apartment to rent from someone who works at Elite.
She initially walked the one mile from her apartment to work, where she starts her day at 5:30 a.m., but wasn’t prepared for the cold and got frostbite on her legs. A woman who works out every morning at Elite saw her walking and offered to drive her to work. Hylick later bought a car from a co-worker at Elite.
“I’m blessed and I am surrounded by some of the greatest people on earth,” she said.
Hylick’s 18-year-old daughter, Jacquelynn, came to North Dakota in June expecting to spend the summer. But she decided to stay and now she’s planning to enroll at Williston State College.
“I’ve always really liked a smaller town because I get to know people faster,” Jacquelynn said. “It’s not as overwhelming as a big city.”
Hylick hopes her husband, Charles, who works as a truck driver in Florida, will join her in North Dakota, but so far he’s been afraid of the cold. She also has a 31-year-old son, Eric, who works in construction and may consider moving to Williston in the future.
Hylick occasionally has to get assertive with a customer who won’t remove his boots, but for the most part she spends her days joking around with clients and co-workers.
“If you’re a people person you can fit in anywhere,” she said.