The Long Run
To comprehend just how long Peggy Nipper has been employed by the state of North Carolina, some points of reference might be helpful. In the same year that she began working, “American Bandstand,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Perry Mason” all made their television debut; Ford introduced the Edsel and Wham-0 produced the first Frisbee; future Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time; and Larry King debuted on radio.
It was 1957 when Nipper, then 19, took a job as a key-punch operator with the Employment Security Commission in downtown Raleigh because the money – $174 per month – was “really good.” Three and a half years later, in the fall of 1960, she left there for the Dairy Records Processing unit at NC State, where she first worked in data entry, then for many years as an accounting clerk.
She found the casual, relaxed atmosphere of the university more comfortable, she says. So comfortable, in fact, that even after 47 years in the same office, she still hasn’t been tempted to retire.
“I have just thoroughly enjoyed working for Dairy Records,” Nipper says. “I enjoy the people here. They’re good people to work for. They’re fair, and they give you opportunities to learn.”
Most importantly, she says, her colleagues have become a second family to her. That’s because Nipper is hardly alone in her longevity in the Dairy Records unit. While she is the first to reach the 50-year state service plateau (and one of just a dozen in state history known to have reached that mark, according to records of the State Personnel Office), she has a colleague who is just a couple of years behind her, another who has reached 40 years of service, and several others approaching 30 years.
In fact, in her nearly half-century with Dairy Records, Nipper says she has only worked under three different supervisors, and two of them are still with the unit. She’s only had four directors during that span, and the current one, Dr. John Clay, has been with the unit in various capacities for nearly 20 years.
So she and many of her colleagues have literally grown up together.
“We’ve all gone through having children born and raised, parents dying, divorces … everything that life offers, we’ve experienced it one way or another here with each other,” she says. “You just always know that if you need something, there’s someone there … a different family than the one you have and raised. It’s nice being able to come to work in the morning and know there will be a friendly or familiar face there. It means a lot.”
Those relationships, she says, have helped sustain her through all the changes in her job over the years – and there have been many. When she began working at NC State, Nipper says her office included “five key-punch operators, a supervisor and one girl in the little computer room.”
Now known as Dairy Records Management Systems, that office today is the largest volume processor of management information for dairy farmers in the United States, providing monthly services to more than 15,000 dairy farmers with more than 2.1 million milk cows. The office has 36 employees at NC State and eight more at Iowa State University who are involved in software development, user support services, accounting, mailing, documentation, education and marketing.
As the office grew and moved into the electronic age, Nipper realizes it would have been easy for her supervisors to look elsewhere for someone more computer savvy, more in tune with today’s way of doing things. That they didn’t, Nipper says, speaks volumes about the kinds of people she’s worked with, and why she’s never wanted to leave.
“Everyone’s been so supportive of me here, and always found a place for me,” she says. “Since I’m willing to learn, they have always been willing to teach me something new or given me a different area to work in. I think that’s been a major part of it; another place might not have done that. They might have said, ‘We’ll get somebody new, somebody young, somebody less expensive.'”
Now approaching 70, Nipper knows that one day soon, the time will be right to retire, spend some more time at her beach house and fully enjoy the company of her five grandchildren. But for now, she’s having too much fun to think about that.
“I’m just a very active person, and I would not be able to just sit around,” she says. “I’d just as soon be working here with friends and family.”
Written by Benny Benton