It was a gloomy morning, but a spritely crowd of Leggett & Platt employees gathered to wish a friend a happy retirement.
After nearly 45 years, Gary “Sonny” Martin clocked in and out for the last time with the Branch One Spring Mill on Friday, Oct. 12 – something he had done an estimated 28,000 times. The crowd expressed admiration when it was announced Martin had hauled an estimated 4 billion, 2 million pounds of wire without a single wreck or citation.
“Came close a couple times,” Martin said, sparking laughs and smiles in the crowd.
Martin was 18 years old, fresh out of the Carthage High School with the Class of 1967, when he started at Leggett & Platt making $1.40 an hour.
“I enjoyed the big machinery; saw those as a young kid and thought it would be fun,” Martin said, looking back at his career. “I was a lead man on the loading dock for 20 years, but the first opportunity I got to drive a truck I jumped in … And here I am. (pauses to laugh) It's better than sitting behind a desk.”
A solemn silence fell over the crowd when Martin was given the opportunity to thank his coworkers for support and offerings through some hard times. Three years ago, Martin's wife, Jennifer, of 38 years, became terminally ill and passed away. The community spirit among the plant workers did not go unnoticed.
“I saw a side of Leggett & Platt I had never seen in 40 years – and it was a good side,” Martin said. “Everyone pulled together for us and it was truly a blessing. It really meant a lot. What sold me on everything was what Leggett & Platt was capable of giving. I'll never forget it.”
Martin had a big smile describing the people he worked with for so many years.
“They're characters, that's what they are,” he said. “I've met a lot of good people. It takes a special person to stay the grind. What's awesome is when I see the sons of my coworkers come up start working here – that's very special.”
Martin is a proud grandfather, as was visible when his daughter, Adrienne, brought her two daughters, Kalie Smith, 3, and Riley Smith, five months, to help him celebrate on Friday at the plant. Also there to show a loving support, was his fînancé, Sandy Higgins, who has also lost a spouse.
“We're going to make the very best of our lives from here on out,” Martin said.
So what now?
Martin says he's looking forward to those long winter days.
“I fought the rain, snow and ice for so long, I can't wait to wake up in the morning, go to the door, look outside and turn around to go get another cup of coffee,” he said. “Maybe go watch SpongeBob.”
Page 2 of 2 - When given the chance to tell Martin anything, these words emerged from the crowd:
“We're going to miss him.”
“We certainly will.”
“Thank you for all of your years – we couldn't have done it without you.”