Silver Star Ray Jenkins
Here’s one working man who’s not interested in retiring
Every day of the workweek, Horatio “Ray” Jenkins gets up at 4 a.m. and leaves for work at 5. He puts in a full day and then heads home.
Doesn’t sound much different from any other working guy — except that Jenkins is 101 years old. He’s been working as maintenance coordinator for the Champlain Valley Exposition in Colchester, Vt., for nearly 30 years. Before that, he worked for IBM for nearly 20 years. Before that he co-owned a bakery. Before that…
You get the picture. Jenkins hasn’t been the kind to sit idle. In fact, when he isn’t working, he engages in one of his many hobbies, which include reading, coin collecting, and watercolor painting.
All this caught the attention of Experience Works, the nation’s largest provider of training and employment services for older workers. In October, the group honored him as America’s Oldest Worker for 2007, part of its Prime Time Awards Program.
Born in 1906 in Amenia, N.Y., Jenkins remembers delivering groceries as one of his earliest jobs. He started tinkering with machines at the age of 12 and never stopped. After training in business and electrical engineering in college, he embarked on a wide range of positions that included being an engineer with General Electric, a mortician’s assistant, a chauffeur, a fireman, and a policeman. Later on, he and his wife ran a bakeshop. (The couple will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary this year.)
In 1952, he joined IBM in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and was transferred to Essex Junction, Vt. He suffered a heart attack in 1967 and was given two months to live. Clearly he beat that prognosis. He worked at IBM for nearly 20 years before retiring. He told a reporter with the Washington Times that he soon regretted this decision.
“Don’t retire,” he said in the October 2007 interview. “When you get through with one job, just look for another. Don’t let your mind deteriorate. Keep at it. Keep going ... keep your mind going.”
His hobbies at the time weren’t enough to keep his mind fully stimulated, so he began doing odd jobs on the grounds of the Champlain Valley Exposition (CVE). Back then, maintenance work was focused on maintaining the buildings, mowing the lawns, and preparing for the annual Champlain Valley Fair.
Twenty-eight years later, Jenkins is still employed there. He supervises two to three part-time employees working as assistants in the exposition’s 12,200-square-foot maintenance complex. His responsibilities include maintaining a fleet of three trucks, three tractors, three forklifts, a one-man lift, a fleet of mowers, string trimmers, paint sprayers, generators, compressors, and welding equipment, as well as numerous golf or utility-type carts used by employees, fair superintendents, and show promoters. He can repair most things mechanical, electrical, or engine-related.
The CVE now hosts more than 100 special events annually, and its facilities range from grandstands to the Robert E. Miller Expo Center, along with outdoor facilities and a seasonal campground.
A few years ago, when asked about cutting back his hours as he approached his 100th birthday, he said, “I work 40 hours just like everybody else. If I can’t do things, I don’t want to be here.”
His contributions over the years have earned the respect and admiration of his fellow workers, senior management, and CVE’s board of directors.
“Ray has an amazing work ethic, a strong sense of commitment and dedication, and an innate ability to diagnose equipment problems and determine the right thing to do,” said CVE General Manager David F. Grimm. “In his current role as maintenance coordinator, he developed a new inventory control system and performed numerous preventive maintenance regimens on the company’s equipment, saving thousands of dollars. Ray is seen as a mentor and teacher to other employees, particularly in the area of safety.”
In 2003, in recognition of his years of service and significant accomplishments, the CVE named its new maintenance building the H.F. “Ray” Jenkins Maintenance Facility.
Jenkins says a key to his longevity and success has been his “willingness to work and do the best I knew how to do the job I was doing.” He is also a modest man, especially when the media or his friends have put the spotlight on his accomplishments.
There are other workers across the nation similar to Jenkins. Every year, the Experience Works program receives several nominations for the Oldest Worker Award. After a committee has interviewed the nominees, they select one they believe is a role model for other older workers in America.
Cynthia Metzler, president and CEO of Experience Works said, “Mr. Jenkins is a wonderful example of how seniors who stay active, both mentally and physically, can continue to make valuable contributions to the workplace and to their communities.”
Now in its 10th year, the Experience Works Prime Time Awards Program is the only national program that annually honors the contribution of working seniors. The program is funded entirely by donations and sponsorships. To learn more about the organization, visit www.experienceworks.org/.
Published April 18, 2008
Silver Planet Feature Writer