SUNNYSIDE — Fifteen-year-old Hector Singleterry was “the smallest one of the guys,” he said, so he was told to drive the big farm tractor pulling asparagus bins on his grandparent’s farms in Grandview. According to Singleterry, when you work on a farm, things break, and things must get fixed.
“I was always interested in knowing how to fix things,” said Seneca Foods Corp., of Sunnyside’s graveyard maintenance supervisor.
All the men in his family bonded “. . . over guy things all the time,” Singleterry recalled in a recent sit-down interview. One of the main guy things Singleterry learned was discovering how to fix things.
And that is the origin of Sunnyside resident, Singleterry’s 42 year and counting career, as a maintenance professional, with one employer.
After graduating from Grandview High School in 1979, Singleterry went to work full time with Independent Food Processors (the original name of Seneca) as a cleanup crew member.
Now 57, Singleterry has held the graveyard maintenance supervisor’s position for four years. For the remaining 38 years, he has labored continuously for the same company under two company names, in nearly every capacity, from clean up to boss and all duties in between.
The father of two grown kids, daughter, Sarah, and son, Hector Stephen, describes life in a production plant as “Yes, it’s pretty all consuming.”
The seasonal runs of cherries, peaches and pears are long, “. . . and really, really hot,” Singleterry said. Staff in production plant environments can go weeks on end, without a day off, well beyond eight hours each day.
During these 42 years, Singleterry said he has met a lot of people; some have become family and some very good friends.
On the day of the interview he reconnected with a work comrade of 22 years, who he hadn’t seen since 2006. “It’s all about the good people,” Singleterry acknowledged with a nod toward his friend.
“It’s really the people I will remember. The good people. The ones who want to work, together we can get stuff done,” Singleterry communicated.
The harsh production environment is nothing but non-stop, solitary, grinding it out, labor. It’s what Singleterry knows best and it’s this level of work ethic that constitutes a large part of his identity.
“I have no retirement plans at all. I don’t think about it, I can’t imagine it,” Singleterry stated. “My mom had two jobs in her 60s, she loved it. I can see me going for quite a few more years.”
Singleterry admits to feeling not much different while on the job, but age crept up some when he wasn’t paying attention.
“The weight has to come off and my cholesterol… wow.” He’s changed up his eating and exercise lifestyles some months back. While making progress, he is not done yet. “It’s not a fast thing, but I’m patient. It’s all about being patient.”
Seneca staff were told in April this year that the 2019 pear run would be company’s last. In Singleterry fashion, he learned his options and crafted a plan, no hand wringing.
“Well, a quick trip to Vegas, that’s in the plans,” according to Singleterry. But longer term, more time to be available to his five grandkids in Outlook.
The most senior employee has his eye on HVAC retraining at Perry Tech in Yakima, more time hunting and fishing. “I like to fish the Columbia,” he noted and maybe at some point, some more travel south to the heat.
And more cooking. “I like to cook, turkey funny enough, it’s my thing,” Singleterry expressed.