- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Just one retirement party wouldn’t do for Ruth Howell.

“They have given me birthday and retirement parties,” said Howell, 86, of Fulton.

“We kid about that,” said Rubye Del Harden, Howell’s boss at Sprint Print in Tupelo. “We don’t have retirement parties, but we have milestone parties.”

Howell’s been working for Harden’s family since 1953, when she took a job as a bookkeeper at the Itawamba County Times in Fulton.

“I had finished high school in 1949 and went to two years of junior college,” Howell said. “I had come to work in Tupelo, and then someone contacted me.”

“Fulton is a such a small town, Daddy would have known Ruth,” Harden said.

Keeping the books was her primary job, but employees at small newspapers are used to pitching in where they’re needed. Howell served as office manager and helped customers of the Times’ office supply business.

“She was at the front,” Harden said. “Whenever someone came in, she would be the first person they saw.”

Hunters regularly brought their trophies to the newspaper office for photographs. Howell recalled the time someone had a snake in the car.

“They opened the trunk up. That snake was alive. It was a rattlesnake,” she said, shaking her head at the memory.

“We took pictures of big vegetables, too,” Harden said.

“Oh, yeah, sweet potatoes,” Howell said.

She was raised on a farm, and did odd jobs throughout high school and junior college to pay her way. She’d had no interest in farming.

“It’d gotten so hard,” she said.

The Times was a good fit for Howell and her family. Her late husband, Ed Howell, was a linotype operator before taking a job at the Post Office. Both of their children, Bill Howell and Connie Thrasher, earned paychecks from the newspaper.

Harden, who took over as owner and publisher after her father died, sold the paper in the 1990s. Howell moved to Tupelo to work at Sprint Print.

“At first, her son and daughter didn’t want her coming over here,” Harden said. “They didn’t want her driving to Tupelo.”

“That was 15 years ago,” Howell said. “They will not let me drive over here now.”

She rides with co-worker and fellow Fulton resident Phyllis Zettler, and they share an office. Howell works two days a week.

“Mondays every other week is payroll,” Howell said. “Thursdays are for catching up.”

There are little office celebrations, including a birthday party last week, but the big event was in 2003 on Howell’s 50th anniversary of working for the Harden family. It drew about 150 people.

“We had her family and her former co-workers there,” Harden said. “We had people speaking and reminiscing about the good old days, talking about Ruth and everyone who’d worked there.”

After that big retirement party, Howell kept going to the office.

“You’ll never find another person who works like Ruth Howell,” Harden said.

She had a mini-stroke a few months ago, and the goal of getting back to her desk was a prime motivator during physical therapy sessions at inpatient rehabilitation.

“It liked to worry me to death,” she said. “You talk about wanting to get out of someplace.”

Now, Howell is back where she belongs, and Harden couldn’t imagine her being anywhere else.

“My husband says, ‘What are you going to do when Ruth retires?’ I say, ‘Well, she’s probably going to last longer than I can,’” Harden said. “That would be my hope.”

Howell’s more pragmatic about the future.

“The time is probably going to be near,” she said. “As long as I feel like it, I’ll want to, but if I get to where I can’t.”

“But you’re going to come as long as you can,” Harden said.

“As long as they’ll have me,” Howell said. “I enjoy working. If they weren’t good to me here, it would be different. I appreciate it.”

“It works both ways, of course,” Harden said. “We’ve been good to her, but obviously, she’s been so good to us.”

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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