By BONNIE BAILEY
Velma McKee, a native of Jonesborough, will celebrate a milestone on Oct. 1 of this year: 50 years as an employee at Washington County Farm Bureau. And what does McKee have to say about the achievement?
“Time moves on,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head.
McKee graduated from Lamar High School in 1963. After school, she worked for Steinway Clothing Company in Johnson City. She then did a short stint as a temporary employee for the Extension office before landing a job with Farm Bureau in 1967.
“I was sitting on the porch and my mail carrier came by, and she wanted to know if I might be interested in a job,” McKee said.
An employee at Farm Bureau was getting ready to go on vacation, McKee said, and they needed someone to fill in. She interviewed on a Friday, and was told to come in on Saturday morning.
“I didn’t even fill out an application or anything,” McKee said. “They didn’t have any back then.”
With only a short window for training, McKee hit the ground running, jumping into her new position with only four hours of instruction under her belt.
“If it hadn’t been for Bob Brumit, I never would have made it,” McKee said. “He was the agency manager then, and he helped me considerably.”
When the employee she was filling in for returned and announced she would be leaving Farm Bureau, McKee was offered the position permanently.
At the time, she said, the Washington County Farm Bureau in Jonesborough was very small.
“It was just me, Bob Brumit, and an adjuster, I think,” she said, “so it’s come a long way.”
Washington County Farm Bureau was formed in 1932 by farmers and farm leaders who wanted representation in both state and national affairs.
When it was formed, they didn’t offer all the services they do now, mainly just representation, McKee said.
Their first offices were in the Jonesborough County Courthouse.
“From my understanding, the first office was in the broom closet,” McKee laughed.
When she started, though, the Farm Bureau office had moved and was on Main Street.
Things were significantly different back then, she said.
“When I started, we had a manual typewriter and a manual adding machine,” she said. “We’ve come a long way from typewriters and adding machines to computers.”
McKee has worked in many facets of Farm Bureau over the years, and according to current Agency Manager Kevin Broyles, she is an integral part of the Washington County Farm Bureau team.
“She’s been involved in every aspect of our business,” Broyles said. “Velma is a tremendous asset as an employee.”
McKee’s current role is in customer service, which she said is the best job she’s ever had.
“I’m up front when you come in the door and I direct people where to go. I get to see about everybody who comes in, and they’ll say, ‘You mean you’ve not retired yet?’” McKee laughed. “I say ‘No, I’m still here. They told me they were going to have turn me out feet first.’”
McKee also serves as the Secretary of the Board, a position she has held since 1978.
Over the years, McKee has attended many conventions and women’s conferences with Farm Bureau, and the trips she has been on were a highlight of her career, she said.
“I went to Hawaii in 1977 for the first time,” she said. “We went to the big island and it seemed like a dream when I got back.”
She made a second trip to Hawaii with Farm Bureau in 2004, and a third in 2012.
“We had some really good times and met a lot of nice people,” she said. “I got to go and see places that I never thought I would.”
Her favorite part of working at Farm Bureau, and one of the reasons she has stayed so long is the people, she said.
Some of the customers have been with Farm Bureau about as long as she has, she said, and her co-workers are wonderful as well.
“The whole Board, when I started, they just took me under their wing,” she said. “They treated me like family. You couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
McKee received a dozen red roses and a plaque for her 25-year anniversary with Farm Bureau, and after 40 years of service she was presented with a clock.
“Time just keeps moving on,” she said again, gesturing toward the 40-year anniversary clock, which is displayed in her office.
At 50 years of service, McKee has no plans to retire, and she credits that in part to Farm Bureau.
“They’ve been good to me,” she said. “I think they’re good to all their employees.”
The Washington County Farm Bureau in Jonesborough is located at 1103 Boones Creek Road. They offer health, life, auto and home insurance, among other services. Their phone number is 753-2106.