10/22/12 — 80? 81? No matter, Sarah Kornegay still going strong

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80? 81? No matter, Sarah Kornegay still going strong

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 22, 2012 1:46 PM

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Sarah Kornegay inspects just-packed jars of pickles as they move past her on the line in the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. packing room to ensure that they are packed correctly. Ms. Kornegay retired in 1999 after 46 years, but continues to work each "green season."

MOUNT OLIVE -- The years are counted in green -- or harvest -- seasons at the Mt. Olive Pickle Co., and Saturday morning Sarah Kornegay was at work and counting down the end of yet another one, just has she has since 1953.

She was also counting down to her 80th or 81st birthday.

"Mrs. Sarah, I just checked our records and you are going to be 81 tomorrow (Sunday)," said Chris Martin, the company's human resources director. "You were born in 1931, according to your documents from here. So you are already 80."

"My birth certificate said I was born in 1932, but when I got my birth certificate the last time because I had lost it, then they said '31 so I don't know," Ms. Kornegay said. "So I just went with '32. It doesn't really matter."

Either way, Ms. Kornegay, a grandmother who looks more like she should be celebrating her 60th birthday, said she didn't have any big plans.

"I just thank the Lord for being here. It is a blessing," she said. "I retired in 1999. I worked 46 years before I retired. After I retired I came back the next summer and I have been working every summer since then. Last summer I didn't work because I had hip replacement, and I couldn't come back. But thank the Lord, I could come back this year."

Ms. Kornegay was 18 when she first applied for a job at the plant.

"I have never regretted it, never. It has been a good place to work, and it still is."

She started work in the packing room where pickles were packed into jars.

"I packed a while then they started me keeping time," she said. "After I did that they put me on the pasteurizer for a while. Then I did lead person work, and that is what I have been doing all the while. I have been helping the lead people. You are kind of in charge of the lines and you kind of help them. The new people that come in you learn them how to pack and keep up with what they are packing."

Ms. Kornegay works five days a week from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. She doesn't drive, but rides with a friend. Ms. Kornegay said she thinks she could still outwork her younger co-workers.

"I just like to work," she said. "That was it. We had good supervisors -- people you could deal with and get along good.

"It was hard to get up early, but it ain't now. I am used to it. I am used to coming in now. I am doing good. I went to the hospital on the 19th of July last year. I had surgery, and you know, I never had any pain from it. I never had to take medication."

Ms. Kornegay has seen many changes during her years at the company.

"Used to, in the winter time, it would get so cold in there that we had to stand in boxes to keep our feet from getting so cold," she said. "It was like the cap boxes. We would cut the front out and stand up in it. Sometimes you would have to get a bucket of hot water. We used to have those little cans and put them down beside your feet.

"It used to be so cold in there, but now Lord, it's good in there compared to what it was. Now everything is changed. They have fixed it up so different. The whole plant is a whole lot different.

"We had women supervisors and men supervisors, but the women supervisors they were tough," she said. "That is the reason I learned to pack like I did because to pack the pickles you had to pack them a certain way.

"I still have to show them how to pack. I really enjoy it because if you be nice to people, they will be nice to you. That is what I try to do. I try to get along with everybody."

There is really no secret to packing the jars, she said.

"There is a special way to put them in," she said. "I can't tell you, but I can show you. I really taught myself. I learned to pack them because we had a supervisor, a woman. She showed you how to pack, and if you didn't pack it right, don't worry, she would give it back to you, too."

Ms. Kornegay has no plans to retire and her two sons, Terry Boyette, 56, who lives with her, and Alfonzo Kornegay, 60, of Dudley, are glad she still gets out, she said.

"They say the more that you stir about the better you will be," she said. "If I get tired my supervisor told me, 'Any time that you feel like you need to sit down you go and sit down and get you some rest and then come back.' But I don't do it. I don't sit down because I don't be that tired. Every now and then I might go in there and take me a little break. Everyone is younger than me. They treat me nice and respect.

"If the Lord spares me and they call me, I will be right back next year. I enjoy the pickle plant. It was the first job I ever had, and I just love it. It doesn't tire me anymore than it did. You see, what I do, I do more walking than anything else. You know what? It is tiresome sitting home. I just love working. That is my problem. I enjoy working. You know, you sit home, and you do this and you do this, and you get tired. I just like being around people."