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Good ‘Bones’

Edward Wilkerson spent half a century working for one Co-op
Story and photos by Glen Liford 2/23/2018


Edward “Bones” Wilkerson has worked under six different managers during his 50-year career with Knox Farmers Cooperative. His slim frame earned him the nickname “Bones” from a coworker many years ago.
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Knox Farmers

Cooperative’s Edward Wilkerson, affectionately known as “Bones” by his coworkers and many of the Co-op’s customers, has spent the past 50 years of his life as an employee of the Co-op.

He’s worked under six managers and served countless customers during his amazing run, but the time has come for the soft-spoken man familiar to so many to move on. His last day with the Co-op was February 28. Edward began his Co-op career in the spring of 1964. He was pumping gas at the Pride filling station on Maynardville Highway that used to stand just a short distance away from the Co-op’s Halls branch store.

“A friend of mine who worked at the Co-op came through and asked me, ‘Don’t you want a better job than this?’” recalls Edward. “I said, ‘Well, I might.’ He told me to get ready and we’d go down to the store on Monday. Mack McCarter was the manager. Mack put me right to work that day, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Edward says he can’t recall many details about that first day. He went to work in the tire shop and started changing tires and fixing “flats.” Those early days were hard work, he remembers.

“We used a bumper jack and then a lug wrench to take off the wheel,” he says, noting that he started before the shop had air-powered tools and automatic lifts. “There would be two of us at a time working on a car, one on one side, and one on the other. You would spin that big ole lug wrench and sometimes hit your knee. You talk about hurting!”

“We changed a lot of tires over there,” adds Edward. “Co-op sold a lot of those High Level Tires. It was about as good a tire as Co-op ever had.”

After three years, Edward got the opportunity to move out of the tire shop and get behind the wheel of one of the Co-op’s many trucks. He began delivering feed, fertilizer, and other products before finally taking over as the fuel truck driver for the Co-op. He spent more than 30 years delivering fuel. Around four years ago, he took on the important role of warehouse manager at the Halls store.

Early on, Edward’s slim frame earned him his nickname, “Bones.” Back then, he only weighed 125 or 130 pounds, he says. Today, he might go 160 “soaking wet.”

“Everybody started calling me that, and they still do,” he says.

During his career, Edward has seen drastic changes in the Co-op business and the farm community. But his dedication and concern for customers have never wavered.

“I delivered to a lot of elderly people,” says Edward. “If it was cold, I would always stop and see if they needed anything.”

Fertilizer and feed, he recalls, were delivered mainly in bags when he first started.  It was a big improvement, he says, when the Co-op added bulk delivery.

The number of products has expanded, too, he says. For example, he recalls that the Co-op only had one horse feed back then, and now there are multiple choices.

The hectic spring season is dead ahead, and Edward says the intense rush that the warmer temperatures bring was on his mind as he was contemplating retirement. The spry senior is in good shape and plenty healthy at a young-looking 75 years old, but he admits the long days are getting harder.

“Sometimes when you are in here by yourself, it gets tough,” he says with a smile. “I can tell a big difference. It didn’t used to bother me at all, but at my age, you’ve got to slow down. That’s just the way it is.”

“He is without a doubt one of the most dependable employees I have ever had,” says Knox Farmers Co-op Manager Lewis Jones. “It means everything to a manager to have employees [like Edward]. He takes a lot of the stress and worry out of my job. And with his many years here, he is a wealth of knowledge. He knows his customers, their needs, and what they’re buying. He will really be missed.”

It’s not going to be easy for Edward’s fellow employees to see him go, either. Simon Newman, who works with him in the warehouse, says his elder friend is “always in a good mood” and makes the work “a lot of fun.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him being here,” he says. “I’m not sure I could make it 50 years. That’s a long time.”

“You better believe it,” agrees Edward. “After you get in your 40s and 50s, those years pass quickly.”

Edward is looking forward to life after retirement. He plans on spending more time with his wife, Betty, his two children, Danny and Debbie, and their spouses, and his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The devoted couple has been married for an enviable 47 years, but Edward jokes that he has spent more time than that at the Co-op.

When asked if he has any hobbies he plans to spend time on, Edward shrugs and says, “I’ll try to think of something when I get out of here.”

His son, he says, has a construction business, and he’s thought of maybe helping out there.

“My wife says I don’t have any business out there working with him and that construction is hard work,” he says. “But I don’t think sitting on one of those machines would be all that hard if you didn’t stay on it all day long.”

He knows many retirees who are content to gather at the local Hardee’s and socialize and talk for hours. They go for breakfast and then head on to another stop for lunch, he says. Edward prefers to eat at home, however, and usually brought his lunch when he was working.

How about travel? Many retirees set their sights on exotic locations that they couldn’t fit in when they were working.

“No, not really,” says Edward. His wife has taken a few trips without him, but travel is not on Edward’s agenda either.

“I’d just as soon not go,” he says, as he recalls taking only one vacation while at the Co-op.

“Everyone said I should see the ocean, and I took a few days at Myrtle Beach,” he says. “I saw it. That’s all I wanted.”

No, Edward’s plans are simple. He is focused on growing his annual vegetable garden, mowing his two-acre spread, and keeping the house “washed down.”  But he’s not too worried about filling up his time.

“I have quite a bit plowed up [for the garden],” he says.

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