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Golden Pecan-iversary: Hunter honored for 50 years at Priester’s

Robert Hunter walked into Priester’s Pecans shelling facility in Fort Deposit in October 1969 looking for a job. He hasn’t left since.

On Oct. 19, family and friends surrounded Hunter as he was honored for 50 years of service to the company. But don’t think he’s retiring or even slowing down. The man who has helped shell and process enough pecans to travel around the world nearly four times, is still at work daily.

“I came here on Oct. 17, 1969,” Hunter said. “I’ve done a lot of jobs. I’ve worked on machinery and helped do most of the maintenance work here. I helped when they added onto the plant. “

Priester’s was founded in 1935, so Hunter has served more than half of the company’s existence.

“It’s grown from the small part of the building up there to all of this,” he said. “Back in 1970, or in the 70s, we started adding on. We added on more in and did the shelling plant in ’75.”

Born and raised in Fort Deposit, Hunter, who has family in Greenville and Butler County, said he’s worked with a lot of good people.

“It’s been a great place to work,” Hunter said. “They’re great folks. I enjoy these really nice people. They’ve treated me nice. They’ve been really great to me. I’m going to keep working. I do maintenance work and supervise now, but I also shell and crack pecans.”

Priester’s Pecans President Thomas Ellis said you couldn’t ask for a better employee.

“He started here in 1969 on Oct. 17 — he turned 17 on Oct. 16, and came to work on
Oct. 17,” Ellis said. “There was one other employee that worked 45 years — a man named Caesar Thomas. As far as I know, Robert is the person who has worked here longer than anyone. You can’t replace the experience and knowledge of someone who has worked hands-on helping run our business all these years. He’s so dependable and loyal. You never have to wonder whether he’s going to take care of his part of the business. If there was ever a question, he was going to call you before you called him.”

Ellis said Priester’s benefits from Hunter’s experience and dependability.

“If he’s not here, we’d better go looking for him,” Ellis said. “He’s just that dependable.  We wanted to celebrate his 50 years. Between three employees now, we have 139 years of experience.  We’ve got eight that between them have 247 years of experience. He really sets the tone. He sets an example now for all of the young people of how someone can make a living and a career by working for a local rural business and be able to give back to the community. Hopefully, Robert has a lot more years to go.”

The two swapped stories in front of the crowd before Hunter received gifts and enjoyed the night eating – including Priester’s famous pecan pies. Hunter also led family and friends on a tour of the facility that he’s work in for five decades.

Ellis said the length of time Hunter has worked for the company is ”phenomenal.”

“I was trying to think of something that would show how long he’s been here,” Ellis said. “When the first pecans came in this year, I measured one. In 50 years, if he had averaged bringing 30 loads of pecans in, and thinking about how many pecans are in a pound — I measured them and how many inches are in the world. He would have gone around the world three and a half times with pecans. A few more years and he’ll make the fourth time around. That means we need him at least seven more years.”

Hunter said Caesar Thomas recommended that they hire him back in 1969.

“We got started cleaning up for the season and Mr. Priester came down and was standing and watching,” Hunter said. “He asked me how old I was and I told him 17. He looked at them and asked if they knew how young I was. He said — ‘I can’t work him, he’s too young.’  Caesar said if anything happened it would be on him. Mr. Priester still wasn’t convinced. I kept on working.”

Indeed, Hunter has kept on working for 50 plus years. He’s looking forward to more and he and the employees at Priester’s began cracking another season’s worth of pecans earlier this week.