ROCKINGHAM — As many of us know from either the Facebook post or the disappointment of driving up to see they are closed, Dairy Queen is closed for renovations.
The popular restaurant located off U.S. Highway 74 Bus. in downtown Rockingham is in its 70th year and continues to be a local favorite.
Twenty-seven years and counting from crew member to owner, Jeanna Cloninger’s nearly 30 years of dedication to Dairy Queen in Rockingham is a true hometown, feel-good, heartwarming story.
At the age of 16, Cloninger was ready to join the workforce and applied to work at Sonic in Rockingham. In the words of Garth Brooks — “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers” — she never heard from Sonic after submitting her application, so she decided to give Dairy Queen a try.
What began as a part time job as a junior in high school in 1995 quickly became a passion for Cloninger. She loved the work, serving everyone’s favorite sweet indulgences, the community, and learning from the owner, Bill Waterman, whom she says made a tremendous impact on her life, along with his wife and two children.
Within a few years, Cloninger became a crew leader and was named manager in 2000. In 2014, she became the general manager when Waterman was dealing with health issues. After his passing in late 2014, Cloninger began working to actualize the plans she and the Watermans had been discussing over the 15 years of her purchasing Dairy Queen. After several years of hurdles to rework contracts, going back and forth with lawyers, the process came to a complete halt when Mrs. Waterman passed away in 2019.
Back to square one in attempting to purchase the establishment, Cloninger began working with Lance and Kim Waterman, the son and daughter of the Watermans, and was finally seeing some light at the end of what seemed to be a never-ending tunnel in February of 2021 when a purchase contract was finalized with a set closing date of August 2021.
The process was again held up due to legal matters and came to another complete stop when Lance Waterman passed away.
Slow and steady wins the race, though.
On Aug. 8, 2022, her 20-year dream became a reality when she signed the closing papers to become the official owner of Dairy Queen in Rockingham.
Although the friendly service, hot and fresh, made-to-order food, delicious ice cream and sweet treats will remain the same, the aesthetics of the eatery are getting lots of exciting updates. Starting Monday, Sept. 19, Dairy Queen will be closed for the flooring, wall paneling, and other features inside to be replaced and upgraded.
Cloninger anticipates reopening on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and is excited to reveal the newly renovated dining area. Unfortunately, due to delays in construction and shipping, the chairs and dining room tables will not be delivered until later in the following month.
A native of Rockingham, Cloninger now resides in Ellerbe with her husband Justin, who works for CSX in Hamlet, and their daughter Paisley.