ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Helen Bernhardt’s job at Cooperative Grain & Supply was more than sales and accounting. It also involved one-on-one contact with customers for 24 years.
On Dec. 31, after more than two decades of climbing the ladder to become grain merchandiser, a crucial position in the company, Bernhardt retired.
Her career began in 1973 as an employee at Canada Grain, where she worked the scales for three months.
“I didn’t go to work until my children went to school,” Bernhardt said. “We lived right across the street. So my youngest daughter would go to kindergarten, she’d come home, and we’d be right there.”
Next came another three-month job in 1974, this time with Garvey Grain in Aulne.
In 1977, she began her career with CG&S in Marion, working the counter and scales for a year-and-a-half. In addition to working during harvests, she helped in the office with billing and payment receipts.
In early 1978, she was assigned part-time work with the Hillsboro office of CG&S and became a full-time employee in June of that year.
Her first position at Hillsboro was assistant to the grain accountant, Delbert Peters. When Peters was promoted to office manager in 1983, Bernhardt took over his old position.
Her climb up the ladder was not complete until she was awarded the position of grain merchandiser, which she inherited from Luke Lindsay.
When Team Marketing Alliance of Moundridge took over the department about two years ago, Bernhardt became the coordinator for all the CG&S branches.
“I had to make sure all of their records were right,” Bernhardt said. “It was mostly just accounting.
“I still kept trucks lined up, where before I did the hiring of the trucks and merchandising the grain and the pricing of the grain. And you know, it’s just not as exciting after you’ve been clear up there.”
Knowing she would be retiring soon, she opted not to apply for a position at the TMA branch because she didn’t feel right about joining their team for such a short time, she said.
Being a stickler for details was one reason for her success with her accounting duties, Bernhardt said.
“But I really think it’s the dedication that makes a difference,” she said.
And customer service has also been a top priority.
“I’ve always tried to push people to (realize) if you close at 5 p.m., stay there until 5:05 p.m.,” Bernhardt said. “And if somebody comes in, and you’re ready to do something, like lunch, sometimes that has to wait for the customer.”
Customers are the best thing about her job, she said.
“I think I like working with the farmers,” Bernhardt said. “I like helping them decide-‘Do I hold on to my grain, do I sell my grain, when would be the best time?’ Not that we we’re always right, but it was just interesting.”
Bernhardt, 61, and her husband, Marvin, have two sons and a daughter ranging in ages from 33 to 40. They also have eight grandchildren from 5 years old to 20.
And was there time for hobbies during her career?
“Really, with a job like this you don’t have too much time for hobbies,” she said. “The main thing I’ve done is follow the kids whenever I could. I love to go to their sports and programs.”
But the memories of long hours until 10 p.m. or midnight, six days a week during harvest times, melted away as the reality of retirement settled in. Farmland’s retirement program made it easy to retire, Bernhardt said.
“They have the ’85 Plan’ which, if your age and years of service total 85, you can retire with full benefits from the company. And so why not? Especially in this line of work, your summers are taken pretty well with work.”
Peters, now CG&S controller, said Bernhardt’s accuracy was a key contribution over the years to the company.
“You have to keep track of what goes out, and you reconcile every day, and that wasn’t difficult for her,” he said. “I think that’s the strength we’ll probably miss the most.”
Customers showed their appreciation for Bernhardt’s years of service by attending a retirement open house on Dec. 19.
“It was great, 117 people showed up,” Bernhardt said. “And I had a lot of phone calls, and I had a lot of plants from people saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t make it.'”
During her last week at work, Bernhardt reflected on how short life can be. She lost her mother two years ago, her brother died last winter and she’s lost some friends recently.
“I’ve seen too many people wait too long to spend time with family, and I think family is the one thing that means something to us more than anything,” she said. “I have grandchildren, and I want to go watch their games-the things I missed on my own children because I had to work.”
Part-time work in the future appeals to her, she said. She’s considering the possibility of helping her daughter, who is a day-care provider.
“I would like to get my head together first and see how things fall, but family is the main thing.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS