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At 90, Missouri man puts in his hours

Friday, July 13, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

MARYVILLE — Jim Watson is just your typical hardworking guy. Five days a week he gets up in the morning, cranks up his Ford sedan and drives the 20 miles from his home in Barnard to the Maryville Hy-Vee supermarket, where he puts in several hours as a courtesy clerk.

It's only a part-time job, 20 hours a week, but Watson earns his paycheck with a solid, physical day spent carrying sacks up to the front of the store, bagging groceries and helping customers cart or carry purchases out to the parking lot.

But there is one thing that sets this quick-smiling man apart from his co-workers. Most of them are less than half his age. Watson turned 90 last week, and, after 13 years as a Hy-Vee employee, he doesn't appear ready to slow down anytime soon.

On Monday, his store colleagues hung a big "Happy 90th Birthday" banner over the dining area and served up birthday cake and two huge piles of doughnuts to employees and customers alike.

The party took place a little late because Watson was off for a couple of days during which he attended a St. Louis Cardinals home baseball game with family.

Mayor Glenn Jonagan arrived after Watson had already spent a half-hour greeting friends, customers and well-wishers and read a proclamation declaring July 9 as Jim Watson Day. The framed certificate praised his "youthful energy and strong work ethic."

That's something of an understatement, according to Store Director Chris Wiltfong, who noted that Watson's job requires him to work both inside and outside the store, and that the recent brutal heat wave hadn't appeared to slow him down.

Wiltfong said Watson will sometimes mention that he makes a special effort to "help take care of the old people," customers who are often a decade or two younger than he is.

"I think he's already retired twice (from other jobs)," Wiltfong said. "It's a pretty special thing."

Still, while Watson is certainly special to co-workers and customers alike, he is not exactly unique within the Hy-Vee corporate family. Wiltfong said the grocery chain, which employs 60,000 people at 230 stores in eight states, currently has 13 workers who have either turned 90 or will do so this year. The chain's oldest employee, a produce demonstrator who works 18 hours a week, is 101.

Drawing a paycheck into one's tenth decade is not exactly common, and Watson looks a good 15 years younger than he is.

Short and slender with close-cropped hair and lively eyes, he said he stays on the job because, "It gives me something to do, and it makes me feel good." He added that the best thing about his work is meeting customers, many of whom are old friends.

On the job a quarter-century after traditional retirement age, Watson — with a loud laugh — says he credits his longevity to "good clean living." He adds, a little more seriously, that he always made sure to stay active as a younger man through activities like fast-pitch softball. His regimen these days, however, amounts to showing up for work.

"I get enough exercise here," he says, gesturing toward the grocery aisles.

As for diet, Watson cheerfully claims to limit his intake to "eating everything in front of me." Except for the rare special-occasion cigar, he said he has never smoked.

Born in Clermont, Iowa in 1922, Watson went to high school in Mount Ayr, Iowa. Later on, he was a hog buyer for a packing plant in St. Joseph and also farmed. He spent several seasons following the wheat harvest, moving across the Great Plains driving a combine.

These days, when not at work, he lives quietly at home with his wife, Marcine, whom he married when he was 30 and she was 20. The couple raised four children.

But on Monday, after blowing out some candles and enjoying a large slice of cake, Watson shook a few more hands and went back to work.

"I've always enjoyed it here," he said. "The people have always been nice."


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Comments

Delcia Crockett July 13, 2012 | 2:12 p.m.

Maybe our culture needs to just lose the age bias/prejudice/stereotype?

Ever been over 60 and work with some folks who make crude, impolite remarks just because your hair has turned silver?

This is wonderful that this guy has a job at 90, and kudoes to Hyvee for realizing that over-50 does not mean one has to be put out to pasture.

When you grow up with a strong work ethic, and you have worked hard all your life, and you have taken care of your body by not injuring it with smoking, bad eating habits nor drinking alcholic beverages, then - most likely - you are going to be in better shape and work harder than anyone around you. at any age.

Also, you will have a calm and peaceful personality that is more comfortable for any/all around you - and you will have common courtesy/respect for others when you work to pay off your own bills and have no feeling of entitlement that everyone else should do everything for you, or that everything anyone else has is yours for the taking.

I have worked with the tense, the lazy, the screamers, the ones who ran the place instead of the boss. I have had the misfortune of living close to a person who thinks the whole street and everyone's private life is hers to take and do with as she chooses. She sits all day and is the busybody from Hell, draws a government check and someone else paid off her house for her.

I still work, volunteer in town on some things to help others and I am most impressed with the happy, hard-working people that I meet in this town who work really hard to keep their lives on the move and taking care of things in their life, while giving everyone else the dignity/space to do the same.

Age is only a number - and as all things are relative in life, so is age - and, therefore, one is only young if compared to something else, and one is only old if compared to something else. One would have to be older tnan 900-years-old (the longest anyone ever lived on earth) to be older and one would have to be younger than conception to be younger, if truth is known.

So, if you think 90 is old, then you are showing a bias as to age.

Not a betting person, but lay you the odds generically speaking, that this 90-year-old is younger that a lot of 20-year-olds who will or will not show up on the job, just to draw a pay check and do nothing more.

Congratulations to those who never discriminate/show bias or stereotype about age, but see people for what they really are, instead!

May the tribe increase! God bless America!

:)

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