50 years of service

TORRINGTON – Much of the last week for Ken Owens has been receiving gifts and sharing stories from his 50-year career with the community. 

During his last week at Century Lumber, Owens reflected on his time in the business and what he plans to do next. 

Owens started his career in 1971 when he moved back to the United States after graduating high school in the Philippines since his father was in the service. At the time, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to go back to Wyoming. 

“I just wanted get back over here because I had a girlfriend here,” Owens said.

Along with his girlfriend, who later became his wife, he also had family in the area including his grandmother who he moved in with in Sunrise. 

With only “10 bucks” to his name when he got to Cheyenne, Owens started looking for a job. 

“I actually just went down here to the job service in 1971 looking for a job and they sent me to R&M Lumber to help unload a box car of pine lumber,” Owens said. “So I unloaded that and then they asked me to stick around and run deliveries and pretty much just got a job there.” 

Owens moved his way up from working outside to the sales floor and eventually a manager. There was one thing he learned above everything else while working for Jim Montgomery at R&M. 

“Those guys taught you how to work. I mean you learned how to work you didn’t have forklifts and you learned how to take care of customers,” Owens said. 

Although there was a lot of work, especially when he first started, Owens said there was never a day when he didn’t want to go to work. 

“There’s been good and bad,” Owens said. “There’s always something, but I enjoyed it and you can just look back at how things have changed.” 

On Friday, Century Lumber threw a party for Owens and presented him with a golden hammer celebrating 50 years of service. In his office Owens has a picture of him earlier in his career with a few of his coworkers who also achieved the same feat. Owens said it used to be quite common. 

“One thing that everybody is really surprised about 50 years of service, but I can tell you I got that photo up on the wall… there’s at least four people in there that were not owners that are just employees that put 50 years in,” Owens said. 

Turnover used to be very rare according to Owens, and he never saw a reason to leave either. Although Owens did say he was offered a job at the railroad when he was still fairly new at R&M. 

“I was very young I actually applied on the railroad and got hired,” Owens said adding he had never told anyone before. “In that brief bit of time the lady who was buying all the hardware inside got sick and they needed someone to come inside so I got moved inside and a week later I get told that my application to railroad was accepted and I can come now, and I said I can’t do that, I made another commitment, I’m sorry and so I didn’t go to the railroad. I stayed at the lumberyard.” 

It was the first of many jobs Owens turned down during his career. Owens always keep the company’s priorities at the forefront of his career decisions including his decision to retire. Owens initially had his plans to retire all written out, but his plans changed just like many others in the country when the pandemic began.  

“My goal was actually to work until 70 and retire at 70, but COVID came along and cut my career short so I’m retiring at 50,” Owens said. 

Owens also said the company has also begun to transition to allow new management to take over as he has cut his work schedule down to four days a week since last year. 

“It’s like anything else, sometimes companies get top heavy in management, and someone stays too long, and you have good people in place that could move up but if they can’t move up because somebody won’t move out then you lose those people,” Owens said. “I did not have to step down, I elected to, and I was asked are you sure you want to step down and you do think of that.” 

Owens added his successor, Dan Shields, has transitioned into his role and was deserving of the position. 

After Tuesday, Owens will start to work on his new plans for retirement which will include a lot of travelling. As a manager, Owens and his wife got to travel to major city markets across the country on company trips every year. Owens said he also used to travel a lot with his parents and six siblings before flying off to the next place his father was stationed. 

“If we were in Tampa, Florida, which we were, and get transferred to Okinawa we drove all the way over to San Francisco to fly out and we didn’t stay in hotels,” Owens said. “Then when we get back and he would get stationed over in Michigan, then we drove all the way there and I said I don’t want to ever drive in the car again.” 

Owens’ mentality toward driving across the country have changed 50 years later. He and his wife plan to take a trip to South Carolina to see family before travelling up the rest of the East coast. 

Owens also mentioned possible trips to Mexico and Hawaii when COVID subsides. 

Despite all the plans for travel, Owens said Wyoming will still be their home. 

“This area is our home. It’s going to be our home,” Owens said. 

Owens will be retiring from Rotary as well because he feels he won’t be as dedicated since it is a business organization and he is no longer in business. 

“I won’t be involved so if you’re not going to be involved and you’re not going to go don’t join. That’s my opinion,” Owens said. “You’re in or you’re out, and I’m out.” 

Owens still plans to help others in the community, however, such as doing small projects for those in need. 

“I’ll find something to do. I will try to offer to do some handyman services especially to the elderly or people that need something done,” Owens said. “I wouldn’t mind doing that to help someone out.” 

Owens said his favorite part of his job was being able to help others find what they need and how everyone at Century Lumber was always willing to go the extra mile for the customer. 

Owens is thankful for his time in the industry from R&M to Century Lumber. 

“It’s been good for me, and I hope I’ve been good for it,” Owens said.

© 2022-The Torrington Telegram


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