Fifty years and counting at Hubs

Published 9:14 am Friday, November 29, 2013

SEDLEY—At ages 62 and 65, Vernon Parker tried to retire from Hubbard Peanuts to spend more time fishing. However, Hubs’ master chef couldn’t stay away from the job he had worked since he was 19 years old.

Vernon Parker, Hubs’ master chef, has worked with the company for 50 years. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Vernon Parker, Hubs’ master chef, has worked with the company for 50 years. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

“I just couldn’t sit around and do nothing,” said the man who has only taken nine to 10 sick days in his life. “I tried to retire twice, but I couldn’t handle it. I’m just so used to working. I’ll keep working as long as my health holds up, and they don’t get rid of me,” he added with a laugh.

There is something about the atmosphere at Hubs that agrees with him, Parker said.

“I just like my job,” he said. “I like all of the people I work for and with. Everybody works together, and it feels good. You don’t see people mad like in some companies.

“I just like to cook, and see how pretty they come out on the other end,” he said about the peanuts.

Parker said he did have pride in his work.

“The bosses tell me what they want, and then they don’t bother me,” he said. “That tells me that they trust that I know what I’m doing. It makes me feel good.”

As far as favorites, Parker said he was partial to the redskin peanuts.

Parker, who turned 70 on Thanksgiving Day, was hired by H.J. Hubbard in 1963, and he was the first full-time, year-round, employee of the business.

“I thought a lot of that man,” said Parker. “He never asked me to do something that he wouldn’t do.

“I just needed a job, and Mr. Hubbard knew me — I had cut the grass for him. I told him I needed a job, and he hired me.”

Parker said a whole lot has changed over the years.

“It is a whole lot different,” said Parker. “You used to stand in front of a deep fat fryer, now, it is run by a computer.”

Back then, the cooks were working out of an L-shaped shed in the backyard of the Hubbard home. Now, there is a whole industrial facility.

“To cook 500 pounds of peanuts back then, it took eight hours,” he said. “Now, I can cook 1,000 pounds of peanuts in 45 minutes to an hour.”

Parker said it was probably 10-15 years before he became the cook. Before that, he helped Elloise Hancock, who was in charge of the cooking operations before she hung up her apron. He took over that in the mid-1970s.

The Sedley native said that on his own time he likes the outdoors, specifically fishing and spending time in the garden.

“I grow just about anything you can think of,” he said. “Collards, tomatoes, snaps, squash, white potatoes — just about everything.”

Lynne Rabil, company president, said the company used to have a garden during the off-season.

“Vernon managed it,” she said with a smile. “They used to bring up a lot of butter beans for us.”

As far as fishing, his biggest catches have been an 11-pound bass and a 12-pound catfish in freshwater. Of late, he’s spending more time fishing in saltwater, but he still fishes some in freshwater.

“Just recently, I caught some breams,” he said.

Rabil said Parker is a special person.

“He is well loved in our family,” she said. “Both our family of employees, as well as by the Hubbard family.”

Of his work ethic, Rabil couldn’t say enough.

“He is tremendously reliable and trustworthy,” she said. “For 50 years, Vernon is the first person here in the morning and among the last to leave at night. He fires up the cooker at 5 a.m., and gets everything rolling for the rest of the crew.”

David Benton, production manager, said Parker cares about the end product that goes to the customers.

“I’ve worked with Vernon for more than 20 years and can easily say that I’ve never met a more dedicated employee,” he said. “He cares deeply about the business, his co-workers and most importantly, our customers, and he is always willing to go the extra mile.”

Rabil said not only is Parker loved in the Hubbard family, but he is also respected in the community.

Parker, who goes to church at New Mercy in Courtland, used to take young people under his wing.

“None of them have gotten in trouble,” he said. “I am proud of all of them.”

He also used to volunteer with the Sedley Volunteer Fire Department.

“I volunteered for 15 years, until my mom got sick and moved in with me,” he said. “I had to stop to take care of her.”

Of a third attempt at retirement, Rabil said she hoped it wasn’t anytime soon.

“He’ll work here as long as he wants.”