Happy retirement, Glenna Carter! | Family | #retirement | #elderly | #seniors
KINGSPORT — On April 23, 1963, Glenna Carter braved crossing the picket lines at Kingsport Press Inc., to go to work at one of the world’s largest book manufacturers. On Friday, 58 years later to the day, Carter will retire from Kingsport Press Credit Union.
It is a milestone that has brought both laughter and tears in recent days as coworkers, former coworkers, and customers past and present have stopped in to wish Carter good luck.
“It’s bittersweet, but I am ready to retire, I know I’m going to miss it,” Carter said. “But as time goes on, the time I’ve got left, I want to enjoy it. And rest. I have worked hard. I do work hard.”
“She’s got two closings on mortgages on her last day,” said Walter Salyers, Carter’s boss for the past 13 years. “Her work ethic is going to be hard to beat. She can still work circles around anyone else. She probably would have retired a couple of years ago, but I talked her into staying. I couldn’t talk her out of it this time. And we are all happy for her. If anyone deserves retirement, rest and relaxation, it is Glenna. But we’re all going to miss her. She’s a part of our history and has been an important part of many peoples’ lives through her work here.”
“I’m going to rest,” Carter said. “And have some ‘me’ time for the first time in 58 years.”
Growing up on a farm in Nickelsville, Carter never imagined she’d have a career in finance — not even that morning in 1963 when at age 21 she crossed that picket line to begin work in the bindery department of the Kingsport Press for $1.25 per hour. That’s equal to $10.82 per hour today, according to an online inflation calculator. At the time, the Press had the capacity to produce 45 million books a year. The strike, which lasted four years and drew national media coverage, had started about six weeks earlier — on March 11, 1963.
“I remember having tomatoes thrown at me,” Carter said. “It was pretty bad. They called me a ‘scab.’ ”
The strike started after three months of negotiations between management and five unions broke down. At the time, the unions represented 1,645 of the 2,245 employees of the Press. And 87% of the union workers had voted to strike over wages and benefits.
The business continued to operate. Applying to go to work when she did was good timing on Carter’s part. In 1964 the Press received more than 5,000 applications. According to an article in the New York Times announcing the end of the strike in 1967, the Press was producing 10% of the country’s hardback books and employed 2,500. The strike ended when a majority of new and returning employees rejected further representation by the unions.
“It was a very good place to work” Carter said. “We thought we made good money. We had good benefits.”
After working on the floor for 15 years, Carter got an unexpected opportunity. The credit union manager had been out sick for a while and the remaining two employees were getting behind.
“The credit union back then was still inside the plant,” Carter said. “In a little, small room not much bigger than this (her current office as senior loan officer). They called (a credit union board member) and said they needed help. My boss told him he’d give them the best he had. That’s how I got into the Kingsport Press Credit Union. At the time there were three of us who worked there.”
Carter said she later was asked if she wanted to stay on with the credit union or return to the floor. It was considered a transfer, so she kept her time with the company. In other words, the clock didn’t start over on her work history.
“I had a hard decision to make when they asked me if I wanted to stay,” Carter said. “I didn’t have any education or background with computers and technology. I am glad I did stay. I’ve learned a lot over this time.”
The financial industry and particularly credit unions — once open only to employees of businesses where they originated, now open to others — have evolved dramatically over Carter’s career. And she’s met every challenge.
Asked if she has advice for anyone starting out, Carter kept it simple: “Do the best you can. Learn all you can so you can succeed.”
“I’m 79 years old,” Carter said when asked how she felt about talking about her age. “I will be 80 in September. I know it’s time for me to retire. But I will miss it.”
What will she miss the most? The same thing she said she’s liked most about the job. People.
“I will miss my coworkers and all the friends I’ve made over the years,” Carter said. “I love the people. And our motto is ‘People helping people.’ I’ve had so many different people tell me, since they heard I’m retiring, how much I helped them. People that I actually gave a chance and got them started building their credit up. I had a man come in this morning and he left with tears in his eyes.”
The press business was closed in 2006 by its then-owner, Quebecor World, putting its final 425 employees out of work. Much of the facility was leveled, but parts of it were either repurposed or memorialized.
Carter said she was of course saddened by the end of the Kingsport Press.
“So many people had worked their whole lives there,” Carter said. “It hurt a lot of people.”
But she is happy that the Food City-anchored shopping center that took much of the former Press site incorporated a reproduction Kingsport Press water tower into its design, and Food City’s party room — booked for community events such as civic club meetings — is named The Press Room, and the three-story section of the building that houses doctors’ offices is “The Press Building.”
If you haven’t already had a chance to wish Glenna Carter a happy retirement, or share one more laugh or tear, a reception in her honor is open to the public from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday at the Kingsport Press Credit Union’s main office, 528 W. Center St.