Sometimes it's not the job you're doing, but the job you've accomplished.
Such is the case with Art Ferrell, a building maintenance superintendent -- "maintenance man" he calls himself -- who recently wrapped up a 57-year career at Cross Country Plaza on Macon Road in Columbus.
A quick history lesson: He started in 1956. That's when the shopping center opened, becoming the first major retail hub outside of downtown Columbus.
More history? Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States, "Leave It to Beaver" took to the television airwaves, the cost of a first-class stamp was 3 cents, and the average American production worker was earning $82 and change per week.
Flash forward nearly six decades to last Thursday. Ferrell, who retired a few weeks ago and turns 91 on July 28, was being honored for his body of work at Cross Country Plaza.
At the corner of the four-way stop in the center of the shopping center's parking lot, a stone monument was set in the grass. It reads: "In honor of Arthur L. Ferrell, 57 years of exceptional service and devotion to Cross Country Plaza Shopping Center, 1956 to 2013."
After a brief gathering with family and friends to mark the moment, the Ledger-Enquirer had a chat with the longtime maintenance man about his job through the years. We also spoke with Cross Country's manager Vickie Smith, who has worked with Ferrell for 35 of his 57 years.
Vickie, what has it been like having Art around all of this time?
We've been through a little bit of everything at the shopping center. We've had floods and fires. We've been through a lot at times rebuilding the shopping center.
He's been valuable to you as a maintenance person?
Art's been an inspiration to all of us. He's not a co-worker, not just a friend. He's part of my family. We've been together for a long, long time. I just hope I make it to 91 and have a sharp mind like he does.
Art, how did you come to this job?
I was working with an equipment company that's no longer in business, and they were putting an A&P supermarket in. My trade was refrigeration and air conditioning. But they couldn't get the equipment running. They had let the plumbers install it. But they wouldn't put me in there because they were union and I was non-union. So they brought me in at night. It was a big mess.
The center had just opened when you got here?
It was just being built. At the end down there where the furniture store is, it was Quick Check supermarket, part of Winn-Dixie. They used trade names for several years. Over where the Blockbuster is, there was White's Bookstore.
Several changes have been made through the years, and they've been predicting its failure since the beginning. (chuckles)
What does it take to be a good maintenance man?
You've got to know a little something about everything. I've supervised building (construction), supervised renting. I've mowed the grass, and did maintenance work on the buildings. There's not much I haven't done.
You've got to be creative and improvise at times?
You do. When our roof leaked once, Vickie and me built funnels out of plastic PVC to funnel water from inside the store to outside the store, to keep it from coming in. It was pouring in because of a hole in the roof. And it worked.
The toughest moment for you?
We had two or three big fires.
What did you do when those happened?
You get the heck out of the way and let the firefighters come in.
Do folks tend to underestimate the value of a good maintenance man?
I know they do. But whatever happened, I was here.
What's the biggest change you've witnessed?
Nothing that stands out, other than those fires.
The biggest change was made in the last couple of years, with Publix moving their store into a superstore, and T.J. Maxx going where it is.
What are your emotions now that your career is behind you and there is this stone monument in your honor?
I've worked through seven different owners. When they would sell the center, Vickie and are were part of it.
I appreciate the marker; I never expected it. But you don't have too many people work in one place for 57 years, either.
And I've lived here. This is just like my home I've been here so long. But, you know, all good things come to an end.
BIOName: Art Ferrell
Age: 90, turns 91 on July 28
Hometown: Cullman, Ala.
Current residence: Columbus, moved here in 1946
Family: Wife, Betty, passed away 22 years ago; daughter, Jan Settles, and grandchildren, Amy French and John Settles; and three great-granchildren
Leisure time: Now that he's retired, he'll do some "odds and ends." He also meets downtown three days a week with a group of senior citizens, having lunch, playing games and simply socializing.