A sea of red shirts flooded the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, on Tuesday to celebrate the 115th anniversary of J.C. Penney stores.

Dozens of employees from stores around the country joined the company’s top executives, including chairman and chief executive officer Marvin Ellison, to honor their founder and give back to the community. The event was held at the J.C. Penney Memorial Library & Museum and organized by the museum’s curator, Dean Hales, and the Kirksville, Missouri, store manager, Janet Gremaud. Penney was a native of the Hamilton area.

“A company is not just the buildings or the computers or the merchandise, but it’s the people, the culture and the history,” Ellison said. “This is really just a reflection of the great history and the culture of J.C. Penney. It’s an honor to be here.”

Ellison said the company left an early impression on him when it opened a store in his hometown in 1968. He also lived in a small town, like Hamilton, with a couple of stoplights and a neighborhood J.C. Penney store.

“The simple and wholesome nature of what it means to a small town,” he said. “It keeps a legacy alive.”

Ellison, along with executive vice president Joe McFarland, presented Hale with several gifts and a check for $2,000 to help repaint Penney’s childhood home.

Hales has maintained the museum dedicated to James Cash Penney in Hamilton since 1976.

Through applause, Ellison admitted it was no secret the company was going through some difficult times, including previous years of “bad leadership” and “changes to back-end issues.”

“There are things happening this year to improve the company and make it profitable again,” Ellison said.

Ellison has been with J.C. Penney for a little more than two years. He said the company was profitable in 2016, the first time in a few years.

“We think the company is back,” he said. “And I am excited about the (potential) growth.”

Management from the St. Joseph store were in Hamilton, too.

“It’s extremely refreshing,” said Rebecca Evinger, general manager for the store at the East Hills Shopping Center. “It’s comforting in the future. I’m inspired. (The company) has been rocky for a while.”

Evinger, along with two of her employees, joined other store employees who had the word “Volunteer” on the back of their shirts. They toured Hamilton’s library, the museum and the family farm then put on their work gloves and headed outside.

One group did landscaping and cleanup at the museum on North Davis Street while another scraped the old paint off of Penney’s childhood home.

Evinger said she was amazed by all of the things J.C. Penney did for his community, his company and especially the environment.

“Us being in the Midwest,” she said. “It speaks to us.”(tncms-asset)6b805c74-2463-11e7-a125-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)

Jenn Hall can be reached at jenn.hall@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHall.