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OAKLAND – A surprise retirement party was stealthily kept under wraps by hundreds of workers at the Ajinomoto plant in Oakland last Wednesday. Production at the entire plant was halted for almost an hour as the workers made their way to the break room for the big party. The room was filled with well-wishers and retirement decor, and anticipation mounted as the clock ticked past the start time.
The honoree, Terry McMinn, was a few feet down the hall in her office. Only two days remained in her 13-year career at the plant, but it was business as usual for the Human Resources director.
“She scheduled a 2:30 conference, I guess it was important,” Plant Manager James Wilson shared as they waited. Finally the door opened and it was evident the surprise was a success.
“I kept wondering why everybody kept coming to my office and closing the door,” Terry explained about the distractions during the day.
Terry was the first employee hired at the plant back in 2008 when it started operations as Windsor Foods. She was also the only person in the building who also worked at the location when it briefly operated as Mississippi Beef Processors. She was responsible for hiring many of the workers gathered in the room during the last 13 years.
“She has coached, counseled, loaned money and given great advice. She has cheered for us all and she has cried many tears,” Wilson said as the honoree and her husband, Earl McMinn, were seated in rocking chairs at the front of the room. “She has hired more than 3,500 employees, some of us three or four times,” the plant manager said.
Marked by tears and laughter, the strong bonds forged by McMinn with her co-workers were visible during the party.
“I am certainly not prepared, but I can always say something,” McMinn said when offered an opportunity to reflect on her journey. “As I have told so many today, y’all have a piece of my heart. I loved getting to knew each and every one of you, and I hope I have done something that has helped you or your family. I appreciate the opportunity to get to know each of you.”
McMinn also commented on Wilson’s comments about employees returning to the plant for a second or third time.
“You that have been hired several times. I am a believer in giving opportunity as these people will let you know. I have seen over the years that people tend to mature and grow,” she explained.
Letters shared from multiple top company officials during the party attested to Terry’s role in the success at the plant, which has expanded five times since opening in 2008.
“I remember the first day we met, when you agreed to join us on the journey at the Oakland plant,” Ajinomoto Vice President of Operations Steve Charles wrote. “Much of what we have been able to accomplish would not have been possible if it weren’t for your wealth of knowledge and dedication to the future.”
The party came to an end as five cakes were sliced and served. Terry and Earl also thanked the attendees for the numerous gifts, including the rocking chairs.
“I am not quite sure what my next step is, but it is not sitting in these rocking chairs,” Terry said.
Earl had a different outlook.
“We are going to start out sitting side-by-side when she retires,” Earl said, before mentioning an alternate plan. “Our front porch is 54 feet long.”
And the ear muffs presented to Earl… Never mind, better leave that one alone.