Longtime Purnell employee says he’s still not ready for retirement.
By Lisa King
Todd Purnell made a face when asked if he remembered when longtime employee Sonny White first came to work at Purnell’s Old Folks company.
“Heck no, I wasn’t even born yet; I’m only 49,” he said.
White’s face lit up at Allen Purnell’s guffaw.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but time slips up on you when you’re having fun,” White said. “And being around good people… well, we just kind of grew up together. You know they got to be good people to put up with me.”
William “Sonny” White, who celebrated 50 years of employment at Purnell’s in April, and was only 20 years old when he started working at the company, meant it literally when he said he and the company had grown up together, he said.
“When I started, there were only 13 employees here,” he said. “We had a truck driver and a secretary, too.”
Now the company sports a full office and management staff, with nearly 300 employees working two shifts, he said.
“We used to think we were doing something when we killed a hundred hogs a day, now’s it’s more like three hundred,” said Allen Purnell. “Mama used to come over in the afternoon and help us wrap the sausage by hand. Now we’ve got sales in about forty-two states.”
When White first started at the company, he worked cutting pork.
“I worked on the boning table, and then I worked my way up to supervisor. I was a supervisor for twenty-eight years, and then I went to quality control assistant in 1994,” he said, his current position.
“A quality control person gets there early in the morning and makes sure everything is clean, the equipment and everything,” said White, describing his duties. “After that, I have paperwork to do. Then I do an inspection, checking the dates on the products, make sure everything is right, you don’t want to short-weight anybody. And you don’t want to make anybody sick. So far, right now, knock on wood, we haven’t had any recalls.”
Does he sneak up on people or do they know when he’s coming?
“A little of both,” he admitted.
White and his late wife, Vivian, raised their two children, William and Donise, in the Simpsonville community, on Clark Station Road, and White said the Purnells are more than an employer to him.
“They are like family; they are good to me and my family and I love them dearly,” he said.
Allen Purnell’s office was crowded last week with his son, Todd and his brother, Bob, along with White’s brother, Abby and his sister, Shirley, also longtime employees at the plant, who took a break off from work long enough to take part in a presentation to White of a plaque for his 50 years of service to the company.
After the presentation, the reminiscing started, with Shirley White seated in Allen’s favorite rocking chair (at his insistence), and the others gathered around, with Abby White in his trademark outfit – he traditionally comes to work with his shirt buttoned up crooked.
“Do you think I ought to straighten up my shirt for the picture?” he had asked.
“Naw,” somebody answered. “Wouldn’t nobody know who you was!”
Abby White and Shirley White have both been with Purnells for more than 30 years.
The group remembered others in the White family who worked at the plant.
“Sonny’s got a fine family, some work here and some have worked here, and his daddy worked here, and he grew up in the neighborhood,” said Allen Purnell. “All my wife’s family and his family, all grew up together.”
White’s brother-in-law, Charles Marshal, who retired earlier this year, worked at the guard shack, and his niece, Tina Taylor, works in the Sausge and Biscuit Department.
Allen Purnell chuckled as the talk turned to fun times they had enjoyed together at the plant.
“Back in the old days, anybody that had a birthday got a spanking,” he said. “Well, Sonny’s cousin was working here, Robert Lee, and Sonny thought he ought to get a spanking, too. But the trouble was, Robert Lee didn’t think that birthday thing applied to him,” said Purnell, with a mischievous glance at White. “After they went round and round, that ended that birthday celebration.”
White, who also has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, is close to his children, saying, “My daughter and my son, they really look after me. They say, ‘Dad, I love you’, and I hear that every night. They have done good, and the Lord has been good to me. The road’s been rough, but I have made it so far.”
Does he have any plans to retire?
“I told them [his kids], being around you all keeps me going,” he said, glancing around at everyone in the room. “I was off about a month ago with gout, and I was laying around the house, and I said, ‘I’ve got to get back to work, I’m getting weak.’”
Allen Purnell nodded in agreement. “That’s true,” he said, gesturing toward his own knee on which he recently had surgery. “You’re better off keeping busy.”
“As long as the Lord lets me keep going, and you all will put up with me, I’ll keep on coming to work,” White said with a smile.