Nelson Martin has worked for 62 years at Jones Feed Mills Ltd. – from age 17 all the way to 79. Yet despite his decades on duty, the Heidelberg resident was caught off guard when his bosses announced plans for an open house to mark his retirement.“I didn’t want nothin’,” said Martin. “I told ‘em, I’m not a guy to have a big to-do about something – I made a living in 62 years, and what’s that about, you know?”
Oh, come now, Mr. Martin. After 62 years of work, far outside of the glory of the spotlight, surely you must derive some small enjoyment from the attention and adulation?
“Well… I…” Martin pauses for reflection.
“Yes!” interjects Vera, his wife of 58 years.
Martin laughs. “No, I… I don’t… I don’t fancy it, put it that way. But I’ll take it. Not that I was looking for it. I’m just not that type.”
Indeed, it took a certain amount of negotiation to convince Martin to even take part in an interview for the Observer. “He’s very humble and very modest,” notes Bert Pletsch, head of international sales and development at Jones Feed Mills, and an organizer of the open house. “Doesn’t seek any attention at all.”
All of which is part of a work ethic that has endeared him to his colleagues and employers for decades, said Pletsch. “He’s one of those old-fashioned workers that is always here early, always very conscientious, wanted things done right. … Always very honest, and just a pleasant guy to be around.”
It was April 1, 1951 when Martin logged his first day at the plant, then called Hoffman Feed Mill, after being laid off from his previous job on a poultry farm. Looking for work, the 17-year-old Martin heard from his future brother-in-law that the feed mill was hiring, and was recommended to the owner, Amos Hoffman.
“He didn’t know me from John Henry,” recalls Martin. “But he phoned me on Saturday and wondered if I wanted to work for him, and I said sure. He said, ‘Come in on Monday.’ He didn’t know me, he hadn’t seen me before – nothing!
“I went down on Monday morning and started working … and the rest is history.”
Martin began his long tenure by working manual labour in the mill, and then spent time as a truck driver. When an appendix removal halted his truck work, Martin moved into the plant’s office, where he worked into the late ‘90s, when the mill was acquired by Jones Feed Mills.
In 2000, Pletsch eased back on the responsibilities, and spent more than a decade packaging birdfeed and cleaning up around the mill on a part-time basis.
“Not very many people are in business in the same place for 62 years,” added Pletsch. “He’s become a friend to a lot of people, and I’ve appreciated the opportunity of getting to know him.”
Throughout all these years, Martin worked within walking distance from his home, where he and his wife Vera raised a family of five children. Since then, the family brood has expanded to include 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“The oldest one turned 36,” said Vera Martin. “So we are old, aren’t we?”
“I always said, I had a job at the mill, she had a job raising the kids,” said Martin.
Any way you slice it, 62 years is a lot of time to spend at one company. For Martin, it was time well spent.
“I loved my job. Some people say, ‘Oh, you work in one place all the time.’ Well, I loved what I was doing, got along with customers, and met different customers all the time … I supported myself for years, and what else?”
As for the secret to his longevity, Martin is less certain. “I always say I must have done something right for all those years!”
The open house for Nelson Martin takes place on May 3 at Jones Feed Mills, 2555 Lobsinger Line in Heidelberg, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. There will be a green egg barbeque between noon and 1 p.m.