WINCHESTER — Contentment, you might say, comes easy to Betty Fout.
After starting at Schenck Foods on Valley Pike in Kernstown as a 17-year-old senior, a member of James Wood High's Vocational Office Training (VOT) program, Fout was asked to stay on after her training period was completed. She said "yes," and "staying on" translated into decades rather than years as a mainstay in the company's front office.
On May 31, Fout stepped down after 58 years behind a Schenck's desk. She leaves behind a grandson, Jeremy Elliott, who works in the plant's freezer.
Over the years, Betty acknowledges interviewing elsewhere — Coca-Cola, for instance, and Winchester Memorial Hospital — only to realize Schenck's was the "best fit" for her.
The 90-year-old company sells wholesale foods and products and also has a walk-in warehouse for customers.
For one thing, there was the work itself, varied as it was personal. Though at the end of her career at the retail and wholesale food distributor Fout worked almost exclusively in accounts payable — she once turned down a managerial position in accounts receivable — she learned many functions of the office operation as a VOT trainee and young employee: invoices with Frank Mills, for instance, and customer service. She also served as the "back-up" switchboard operator, a position she still held when she retired.
Always an office worker, Fout never considered moving to another part of the plant. Paradoxical as it may sound, she enjoyed how each day had a sameness to it, but, at the same time, was also different. "You were dealing with different companies all the time," she says. Often in the days before computer records, she would write out weekly statements to her salesmen, detailing the recent purchasing history of their clients.
Fout recalls with a laugh how hard it could be in those early days to provide exact service to customers. Take toilet tissue, for example. Remembering the exact brand and ply from one order to another could be a challenge. Then there was the time one customer desired to know how many squares there were in a Hershey bar so the "s'mores" he was making would have the requisite consistency. Finally, she worked with the folks at the Clarke Ruritan on a barbecue recipe for the chicken the club purchased from Schenck's. Scarcely a dull day, indeed.
Such attention to detail earned Fout, as Schenck's records indicate, the company's Employee of the Year award three times and, when the firm changed the frequency of the honor, Employee of the Month, once. She also turned in many years of perfect attendance.
So while she never envisioned working for the same company for 58 years, Fout admits to not merely liking the work, but also the paycheck that came with it.
"I liked the money," she says succinctly. "I liked the way I was able to help my husband and my daughter, with money for vacations and home improvements. It helped give me and my family a better quality of life — that, I think, is a good way of putting it."
There's also something to be said, age notwithstanding, for knowing when to retire. When Betty came to Schenck's in 1961 as a trainee, the company not only asked for her grade-point average, but also for a sample of her handwriting. She shakes her head now at the knowledge that schools no longer teach cursive handwriting anymore.
And yet, what have replaced the tools of her youth are, Fout says, "more complicated." She notes "it takes longer to comprehend" the office technology that currently prevails — technology, she says, "kindergartners are ahead of us" when it comes to mastering.
Customers and clients, too. No longer is there the extent of personal interaction with these folks that there was at the dawn of Fout's career. Those handwritten statements to her salesmen are a thing of the past. Now, the company's customers can examine their buying patterns electronically.
Fout, though, leaves Schenck's not only with memories tinged with wholesome nostalgia but with plans. She says, again with a laugh, that "I like to read and watch TV, but I am determined not to do that all the time."
So what does she have on tap? Well, for this West Virginia native (Mineral County) and lover of country life, there's a kitchen to redo at her home on U.S. 50 West, and some painting in the basement to render it more water-proof, and maybe a new HVAC system.
But there's also a special expense devoted purely to pleasure: She and her husband will take a long-awaited cruise to the Bahamas.
Sounds like this former Schenck's employee has no plans for any grass to grow under her feet. She's content to stay busy.