Man celebrates retirement after never missing a day of work
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — His final day of work last Friday was no different from when Willie Sumlar started on Aug. 12, 1957.
“I was trying to get stuff done,” Sumlar said. “You know me, I complete the day.”
Sumlar, 84, of Orange, is so thorough that he has not missed a scheduled day of work in 62 years with the maintenance department for Essex County government in Newark.
He’s never taken a sick day. Let that marinate.
It’s just not him to take off, even he didn’t feel well. He’d pushed through any discomfort to be at work by 5 a.m., an hour before his shift started at 6 a.m.
“There’s so much that needs to be done,” Sumlar said.
Friday was the last day for this retiring senior repairman to get it done, and the last time for the county to thank him for doing it his way. More than 200 county workers surprised him with a standing ovation.
Someone took the pair of pliers from his hands when the applause started in the lobby of the Hall of Records. It continued outside on the grounds as he walked out of the door heading toward the parking lot, escorted by his supervisors.
“I tell ya, it really draws tears to your eyes,” Sumlar said.
It was hugs and picture taking with a man who did whatever was asked of him. Work orders weren’t his style. He just did the work.
Sumlar moved and repaired office furniture. He rearranged rooms, shampooed courtroom rugs and washed windows, scrubbed and waxed floors. If it snowed, he removed it. There’s a piece of this carpenter, painter and custodian everywhere throughout the government complex.
“I can’t say enough good things about Willie Sumlar,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “Whether you were a longtime or new employee or just a visitor to our county complex, Willie extended his kindness to you, welcomed you to the county and always was ready to lend a helping hand.”
Never one to sit still, Sumlar didn’t stop working after he clocked out at 2 p.m. He’d leave the county for a job at a caterer in Newark, where he cleaned, delivered food, and checked inventory.
He did this late into the night, seven days a week, getting home for a few winks before heading back to the county in the morning. By his count, he never missed a day at the caterer in 15 years.
Work has been his road map to a better life.
Sumlar grew up on a farm with his grandmother in Branchville, Virginia, but he left there and found employment in Norfolk loading a bakery truck and operating a well digger machine.
“I didn’t allow myself to be satisfied,” Sumlar said.
Instead of taking a job working on the highway in Norfolk, Sumlar came to New Jersey in 1957 with ambition. Away from the segregated south, Sumlar figured there was a better opportunity and the chance live a life with dignity that his home state wouldn’t allow.
“Down there in Virginia, you had to walk bent over a little every time,” he said. “I used to watch my grandmother, how she had to deal with that. It used to aggravate me so bad.”
Sumlar landed in East Orange, rising as early as 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to find work before the county hired him. Life for Sumlar began to fall into place, and he became a family man in 1959. Sumlar has been married 60 years to Rose, his childhood sweetheart, whom he affectionately calls, “Toots.” Together, they raised two sons in their home in Orange where they’ve lived since 1964.
The farewell send-off on Friday is not the first time Sumlar has been honored by co-workers. In 2007, the county celebrated his 50th year on the job. Proclamations he received then, along with others, fill the walls of his home. He thought about leaving back then but decided to keep working and giving.
Employees have benefited from his generosity. Sumlar has accumulated so many vacation and sick days that he donated them to workers in need. Before he left last week, Sumlar had another 10 days to spare.
In his personnel file, Public Works Director Sanjeev Varghese said there’s nothing but letters of commendation thanking Sumlar for going above and beyond.
“There is no way we can ever appropriately thank Willie for the time he dedicated to Essex County,” he said.
The county will miss Sumlar, and he misses the job already. It was home for so many years. The people treated him well, but Sumlar said it is time to move on. He has things to do, projects to complete at home and at Bethel Baptist Church, where he’s a member.
“He doesn’t sit down too much, not unless he’s really tired,” said his wife, Rose.
But he’s rarely tired. Credit good health to that. He eats lots of vegetables and doesn’t drink or smoke.
On Monday, Sumlar was on top of his garage trimming back the branches on a Mulberry tree. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was out the door headed to an appliance store, looking for a part to make a minor repair on his stove.
He has to stay busy.
“There’s so much that needs to be done,” he said.
Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com