By Johnny Jackson
Bennie Fletcher said he found what he wanted to do early on in his life.
As a 20-year-old student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Fletcher found the company he would work for during his winter break from classes.
He recently celebrated 50 years with that company.
Now 70, Fletcher still works full-time at Southern States, LLC, a 92-year-old switch manufacturer in Hampton. He is one of the longest-employed members of the company, second to co-worker, Jerry James, who has been with the company for about 52 years.
He recalled his start with the company in November 1958, when a high school classmate, working in the Southern States engineering department, approached him. Fletcher had been attending Georgia Tech and was planning to go back to school, in order to pursue a career as a high school math teacher.
He said his friend told him about temporary positions at Southern States, where he could work during the winter. Fletcher ended up staying at the company, though he remains a consummate Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fan, attending every home game with his two, adult sons.
"It was a good bunch of people to work with," he said. "And when you're young and start making a good bit of money, things line up that way. I don't think that there are too many places you can work now that you can plan on being there that long."
Fletcher lives in Jackson, Ga., with his wife,Marilyn, with whom he has his two sons, Don and David, and five grandchildren.
With Southern States, he started out as a drafter, and has since moved up the ladder to become the manager of the After Sales & Service Department, supervising about a half dozen other employees and managers.
Terry Smith - a field service manager for the switch division at Southern States and a 38-year employee of the company - has worked closely with Fletcher for about 15 years.
"In talking with other employees here, there's nobody here that anyone would want to work under more than Bennie Fletcher," Smith said. "There are about six of us that report to him and we wouldn't want it any other way. He is the ultimate supervisor, I guess you could say. He's just that kind of guy."
Smith said Fletcher exhibits the same good character, personally, as he does as a manager.
"He's this way away from work, too," he said. "Being here this long, he knows just about anything there is to know about the products and the company," Smith added. "He's not just a good manager, he's a good teacher."
Fletcher said it is a part of the job that keeps him going back each morning. "In after sales and service, you're continually meeting people, answering questions and solving any problems that might come up," said Fletcher, adding that he has no plans on retiring any time soon.
"I don't have a set schedule," he said. "I still enjoy working. As long as I enjoy it, and keep my health, I'll keep on going. There are really no negatives there."