During Women’s History Month, we asked women to tell us who inspires them – their friends and family, mentors and heroes. Sisters Julie and Colleen Campbell chose each other. Their lives couldn’t have been more different – until they both became Starbucks store managers. We’re sharing their story and hope it encourages you to think about the remarkable women who inspire you.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, store manager Julie Campbell was serving the morning rush at her Starbucks store in Pacifica, Calif., when reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center began trickling in. She remembers turning on a radio and trying to snatch pieces of news when she could. Customers kept coming in, and the news kept getting worse. Another plane hit the second tower. Then the Pentagon. She feared the worst.
She tried to call her younger sister, Colleen Campbell, who was in the Air Force and assigned to the Pentagon. No answer. The two sisters were part of a large family who spent the day desperately searching for news.
To Julie, Colleen was not only her sister, but one of her best friends – someone who she was inseparable from as a child and who inspired her as an adult.
As the older sister, Julie had acted as Colleen’s champion. She prided herself on being there for her, always ready to support her and giving her advice.
But now, “We had no idea where she was,” Julie remembers.
What she didn’t know was that, at that moment, Colleen was aboard a military plane that had been bound for a NATO summit in Europe, escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it slowly circled the Atlantic until allowed to return to U.S. airspace. It would be 24 hours after the attacks before Colleen could get a message to her family that she was safe.
“To hear that she was OK was just such a relief,” Julie said, choking up at the memory. “I felt like I got my sister back after I thought I had lost her.”
Growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s, Julie and Colleen were as close as sisters could be. They were two kids in a family of seven rambunctious siblings. Julie, older than Colleen by a year and a half, was the guardian. “Julie wasn’t just the older sister – she was our protector,” she said.
Colleen was the bookworm who kept everyone fed. “Whenever Mom and Dad would put us in the station wagon to go on a trip, she would always be in the back, making sandwiches for everybody,” Julie said. The family packed up and moved every few years or so for their dad’s job with Easter Seals. Wisconsin. Iowa. Texas. Indiana.
After college, Julie went west to California and started working in the restaurant business. Colleen also worked in a restaurant for a time, but then decided she wanted to see more of the world and joined the Air Force. After she completed basic training in 1983, she would go on to be stationed all over the world. Japan. Finland. Bosnia. The Azores.
They wrote letters but would sometimes go a year or two without seeing each other. Julie remembers one day when a woman in a sharp blue military uniform and cap came into her restaurant.
“Our restaurant was in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood – you know – hippies. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone in uniform come into our restaurant before,” Julie said. It was Colleen. “It was a total surprise. I didn’t recognize who it was."
After getting over the initial shock, Julie remembers just how happy she felt to be sitting across the table from her little sister, hearing her voice, catching up with each other’s lives. “It felt like we had never been apart,” she said.
After being on divergent paths for years, the sisters’ lives started bending toward each other again around the late 1990s because of Starbucks. Julie, who had been feeling burned out, sold her restaurants and moved to the coastal town of Pacifica, becoming a manager of the new Starbucks store there in 1998. Back on the other coast, Colleen was discovering the Starbucks stores located in the Pentagon, where she was in a new assignment as head of security communications for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.
“When I arrived at the Pentagon, I wondered how to meet people when everyone is so busy and so many important people and leaders,” she said. “Then I found out that there was a Starbucks on every floor. It didn't matter if you had four stars or one stripe, that cup of coffee brought us all to the same level.”
After 20 years of service, Colleen retired from the Air Force in 2003 and began working on a master’s degree in business.
“I applied at Starbucks to take up my extra time,” Colleen said. “And that was pretty much it.”
Just like in the Air Force, she moved up the ranks at Starbucks, soon becoming a store manager. In 2006, she began managing a new store in Marquette, Mich., within a day’s drive of Julie, who was by now managing a store in Wisconsin, not far from their parents’ home in Madison. The sisters continued to lean on each other during their mother’s cancer diagnosis and the death of their oldest sister.
“Julie was the rock,” Colleen said. “She was able to pull the best out of all of us. She was the one that gave us all peace of mind that everything would be OK, as long as she was there.”
By now they have each managed their stores for well over a decade. Sisters not just to each other – but to the countless partners and customers they have served.
Colleen reflects, “How has she shaped my life? By her kindness and the way she looks at people as all deserving.”
To Julie, her sister is her best friend. “She’s been part of my entire life – the memories we share, good and bad, span a lifetime. She has been there every step of the way, and for that I’m humbled and immensely grateful.”