The large room breathes life with every sound of heavy machinery. A yellow forklift carries a pallet tightly wrapped to make it safely to a store in Oklahoma, Kansas or Arkansas.
Steel toe boots, protective eyewear and hard hats are a must at all times within the yellow lines of the room.
He stacks cases of Skippy Peanut Butter on the pallet, one case at a time, until the pallet is ready to be shipped.
He is not new to this laborious task. His 51 years, nine months and one week with the company proves it. He’s the longest consecutive employee in its history.
But his readiness for his next life chapter can be detected from his knowledge of the exact hour of when his time as an employee will end.
Harley Lovelady is eager for retirement.
“I will retire July 6 sometime around 3 p.m. after working here for more than 51 years,” he said.
But Lovelady will continue to work, at his car lot. To him, his work at the car lot is more than business, it is a hobby he has enjoyed most of his life.
“I love to fix cars,” he said.
He sells cars that usually finds in Tulsa or Oklahoma City with a little damage that he knows he can fix.
In the ’60s, however, it was more than minor damage he was fixing on his racing cars.
“I remember a few times going end over end,” he said.
With the beginning of his retirement quickly approaching, he will get more time to reminisce over his racing days as well as his years at the packaging plant.
Meet Harley Lovelady
HOMETOWN: Lamar, Ark.
CAREER: “I have worked for the packaging company, RockTenn, for 51 years, nine months and one week. And I have owned G & H Auto Sales since 1986.”
EDUCATION: “I graduated the class of ’59.”
FAMILY: “My wife is Gloria and my four children are Michael, Mike, Darren and Susan.”
A lifetime of
work and change
Harley Lovelady started working at the packaging plant only two years after it opened in 1957. He has been walking past the yellow lines of the work floor at 6:30 a.m. every weekday since.
He has been there throughout the company’s four name changes from Container Corporation of America to Montgomery Ward to SmurfIT Stone to its current owner, RockTenn.
“Nothing is the same as when I started,” Lovelady said.
Things have even dramatically changed in just the past 10 years ago.
“We used to have nearly 100 employees and three shifts, but now we probably have about half of that,” Lovelady said.
But like many companies, the packaging plant has had to do more with fewer employees.
“When I was younger I would think as soon as I turn 62 I’m gone, but nowadays it doesn‘t work like that,” Lovelady said.
When he retires he will be the only person who has worked for the packaging plant for more than 51 years.
“No one will probably ever work here as long as I have,” he said with a chuckle.
When Lovelady retires, one of the things he looks forward to is being able to spend more time with his wife, Gloria.
They married in 1968. A mutual friend introduced them at a skating rink.
“One day not too long ago Gloria and I drove past the skating rink and I said, ‘I should have never gone in there.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Do you really mean that?’Of course I said ‘no’ because I love my wife,” Lovelady said.
The couple has four grown children who are scattered across the country.
With the nest empty, Lovelady decided to get a little dog, who has become like his fifth child.
“Miss Lily is Harley’s baby,” Gloria Lovelady said. Miss Lily sat next to him with a bow in her hair.
However, Gloria Lovelady was glad to have Miss Lily in the house one afternoon.
“I was walking around the corner of our house, and I saw a man who looked suspicious, walking up to me,” she said. “Miss Lily started barking like crazy and scared the guy off, but I think he may have been trying to rob me.
“The funny thing is I don’t know what Miss Lily thought she was going to do, considering she is so small.”
Gloria Lovelady and Miss Lily watch over the car lot while Harley Lovelady is at work. But when he retires, he will get to spend days with two of his favorite girls.
A hobby turns
into a business
Since 1986, Lovelady has been going to work at the packaging plant at 6:30 a.m. and when he leaves for the day he heads for his own business, G & H Auto Sales. For many people, nearly 12 hours of work a day seems strenuous. But for Lovelady the time he spends at his car lot is just as much pleasure as it is business.
Lovelady has loved cars as long as he can remember. He loves to drive them, buy them, fix them, sell them and even race them.
“In the ’60s I used to race a ’56 Chevrolet at Thunderbird Speedway,” he recalled.
Major accidents couldn’t deter him from his love for cars.
“I remember one race where a buddy of mine, Dexter Payne, sent me end over end a few times,” Lovelady said with a smile. “Every time I saw him after that I accused him of trying to kill me.”
Although Lovelady’s racing days are over, he continues to have fun buying and selling cars that remind him of his days on the track.
“I have a ’55 Chevy, which I think is probably the nicest car I have ever owned,” Lovelady said. “I love that car, but ever since I bought my truck I have been hooked on driving trucks.”
Q: HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
A: “My parents moved here in 1946 or 1947 and I have lived here ever since.”
Q: WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR FREE TIME?
A: “I go to car auctions in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I like to go to car shows and work on cars.”
Q: HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
A: “I own G & H Auto Sales on Okmulgee Street and have worked for RockTenn for 51 years, nine months and one week.”
Q: WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
A: “For the economy to pick up.”
Q: IS THERE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE THAT YOU ADMIRE?
A: “Definitely not me, but several people come to mind.”
Q: WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU SINCE YOU HAVE LIVED IN MUSKOGEE?
A: “I was able to see all four of my kids grow up. I also saw Elvis in ’79 in Vegas.”
Q: HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
A: “It is a great place to live and raise a family. I have a lot of friends and a great life here.”