- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

COLCHESTER , Vt. — Workdays, Ray Jenkins, 101, is up by 4 a.m. and out the door by five for his job as maintenance coordinator at the Champlain Valley Exposition (CVE) fairgrounds here.

Mr. Jenkins has been a firefighter, a mortician’s assistant, an electrical engineer and a business owner. He was a police officer when he met his wife, Edna, more than 60 years ago.

He took a rare couple of days off this week to be in Washington to receive the America’s Oldest Worker award from the Experience Works program. Surrounded by old-timers from across the nation, Mr. Jenkins accepted the award on behalf of the all older workers.

“I share this award with all of the oldest Americans. I don’t want to be alone. I’m part of them,” he said.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, congratulated Mr. Jenkins. “It’s impressive that you have a man who is 101, who goes to work every day, and in a real way. He’s not just sitting there. He has 100 percent of his wits about him. What that becomes, I think, is a model, and he is an example for the young people of 70 and 80.”

Mr. Jenkins, born in 1906, has early memories of his first job delivering groceries in Amenia, N.Y. He completed his education in business and electrical engineering from Albany Business School and Northwestern University in the early 1930s, and from there he began a journey that had many eclectic job titles.

He began to recount the day he and his wife met. Looking up at the ceiling he started to tell the story and he began to talk faster.

“She worked at an ice cream parlor,” he said with a laugh, “and, yes, she gave me free ice cream. We married in 1936.” This year marks their 71st wedding anniversary.

In 1956, Mr. Jenkins was hired at IBM in New York and transferred with the company to Vermont. Almost working there for 20 years, he decided to settle down and retire from his long list of work experiences. Mr. Jenkins soon regretted this decision.

“Don’t retire. When you get through with one job, just look for another. Don’t let your mind deteriorate. Keep at it. Keep going … keep your mind going,” he said.

Mr. Jenkins, who has no plans of retiring any time soon, does enjoy his vacation. He spends his leisure time fishing for muskies, reading fiction novels and painting scenery and landscapes in watercolor.

“I’m no good at portraits,” he joked, “and I don’t play golf. Never did. I don’t see a game as chasing after a ball, but I like fishing. It tends to relax you.”

Mr. Jenkins doesn’t own a cell phone and wondered whether that might have contributed to his longevity on the job. Despite that, he stays in frequent contact with his family who either volunteer or work with Mr. Jenkins during the busy season at the CVE.

David F. Grimm, CVE’s general manager said in a statement, “Ray has an amazing work ethic, a strong sense of commitment and dedication. … Ray is seen as a mentor and teacher to other employees. …”

There are many workers across the nation similar to Mr. Jenkins. The Experience Works program receives several nominations for the oldest worker award year round. After a committee has interviewed the nominees, they select one who they believe is a role model for the older workers of America.

Cynthia Metzler, president and chief executive officer of Experience Works said Mr. Jenkins is deserving of the award because of his accomplishments.

“He’s an example of someone who keeps learning and growing, and he does it with such unfailing good cheer and such a good attitude toward his work,” she said, “The outstanding older worker is a real role model who not only works when they’re over 100. It’s about how they work, their attitude toward work and the contributions to their community. And he has all of that.”

Mr. Jenkins believes his successful career was a choice.

“It’s the environment that you create for yourself. You’ve got to keep your mind active and just keep plugging away.”

When asked about advice for young people entering the work force, Mr. Jenkins smiled and spoke confidently.

“Take the job. Enjoy it. No matter how you might hate it. Just enjoy it, and then look for a better job.”

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