Dorothy Crismon doesn't worry about job security.
At 85 years old, the Modesto woman has been working at the Seneca Foods plant since the day it opened in 1969.
Of course, when she started it wasn't called Seneca Foods. It was Tri Valley Growers originally, then Signature Fruit before the Modesto facility was taken over by Seneca in 2006.
She remembers all the name changes, and the other transitions from automation to computerization, during her four decades.
"I enjoy the work. It's hard work, but it's enjoyable," Crismon said from her west Modesto home. "I thought of retiring five years ago, but I enjoy all the hugs I get when I go back to work each summer."
Crismon is among an estimated 7 percent of U.S. residents older than 75 who still work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And at 20 years past when most people settle for a gold watch and a peaceful retirement, she is still happy to clock in each day.
"I feel so good. I want to be out there working with the people," said
Crismon, whose doctor has given her the OK to keep going. "Otherwise I'd just sit in front of the TV."
Crismon celebrated her 41st year at the plant last week. She has a faded copy of The Bee from her first day, Aug. 6, 1969. She has circled herself in the background of a front-page photo, standing on the line.
For the past four years, she has been the plant's supply store manager. She considers the workers, many of whom she has known for decades, her second family. Some of them even call her "mama."
She has seen generations grow up and pass on. She has watched people go from fresh-faced college students to upper management.
In all her years working seasonally, she has missed only one summer. That was four years ago when she was too ill to work. Otherwise, year after year, she comes back to the plant six or seven days a week during production, which typically runs from June to September. She works 2 to 10 p.m., driving herself to and from work each day.
"I've worked hard for them, and they've been good to me," she said.
Her granddaughter Kari Carvalho, 30, can't remember a time when her grandmother wasn't working summers at the plant. She said the family has gently suggested she slow down. But each summer she says she feels too good to stop.
"I know it is something that keeps her going; she has something to look forward to every year," Carvalho said. "She is very dedicated and has a very strong work ethic. When we talk to her about work, she says she wishes she could do more."
From phone calls to fields
Born in Idaho, Crismon was the youngest of eight children. She worked all kinds of jobs all kinds of places before landing at the Modesto plant. She was a long-distance telephone operator in Las Vegas during World War II. Then she moved to California, working in the fields of Northern California. She spent time in other area canneries, working the line when she moved to Modesto in the mid-1940s.
Before applying for the job at Tri Valley, Crismon had stayed at home looking after her two sons, who had polio. She's the mother of five children, only one of whom is still living. She has three granddaughters and six great-grandchildren, ranging in age from 8 months to 14 years.
She remembers applying for the Tri Valley job but never dreamed she'd be working at the same plant more than 40 years later.
"I said, 'OK, if I get this job, great. If not, oh, well,' " she said.
Crismon figures she has worked more than 20 jobs at the plant, from a line sorter to assistant supervisor, production supervisor and now in the supply store.
She recalls how in the 1970s the women's liberation movement meant she finally could apply for the higher-paying jobs that were until then reserved for men. She did, and began working as a supervisor shortly after.
She has watched tasks from pitting and filling to dicing and packaging go from manual work to automated systems. Over the years, the number of workers has shrunk from more than 3,000 to about 2,100 today.
"I remember saying that these things were never going to take the place of worker hands," she said.
Four years ago, her legs prevented her from working as a supervisor, running up and down the plant steps. She has been greeting employees and providing them supplies such as goggles and gloves ever since.
Co-worker and friend of some 25 years Pramilla Mishra said Crismon's work ethic has made her a favorite at the plant.
"She is very sweet," she said. "She does the job very honestly and doesn't favor anyone."
But people can't slack on her watch. Crismon said new people don't always know what they're getting into when they apply at the plant.
"These young kids think it will be easy," she said. "But it is hard, honest work. You have to work."
Her husband, William Crismon, died in 1986. Over the years, Crismon has picked up hobbies and other interests to fill her time-off season. She loves ballroom dance, something her father instilled in her. She dotes on her grandkids and great-grandkids.
She is also a collector, her house filled with figures of owls (her favorite animal) and memorabilia about Elvis (her favorite singer).
She said if she stays healthy, she will be back again next summer at her post. As long as she feels good, she has no plans to retire.
"I am proud of my age and proud of what I've done," she said. "I am blessed."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.