Donna Sue Pennick, the Tulsa World's longest-working employee, retires Thursday after 58 years and six weeks with the newspaper.
Pennick said she waited until now to retire because she wanted to outlast the previous record, which was set by the late Milton Bastel, who retired in 1999 after 58 years and five weeks.
"I wanted to beat the record," Pennick said.
The Tulsa World will have cake and punch in its first-floor break room at 2 p.m. Thursday in honor of the new record holder.
Pennick was only 19 when she joined Newspaper Printing Corp. on June 27, 1955, as an administrative clerk, earning $55 a week. It was a time when tabulations were computed with pencil, paper and, occasionally, an adding machine, according to a 2005 Tulsa World story.
Pennick said a friend at church had told her it was a good place to work, so she spoke to Messick McGill, who was the controller of the company, which handled the production activities for the Tulsa World and the now-defunct Tulsa Tribune.
She was hired the next week.
Pennick recalled that during her first seven months on the job, she had to hunt for work within the organization. A slot opened in the payroll department, and by February 1956 Pennick had filled it, ascending to department head only a few months later.
Looking back over her time at the newspaper, Pennick said the work today is much easier compared to years ago. For the first 35 years, she had to come into work Jan. 1 to help type the W-2 forms for the company and complete the end-of-year balance sheets.
"Now it's all in the computer, and you don't have to do as much of the typing, and even in 1956 we had a few people that we paid in cash," she said.
At one time she helped handle payroll for a total of 900 to 1,000 employees for the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune. Today, the Tulsa World employs around 420 people.
After the Tribune was bought out by the Tulsa World in 1992, Pennick remained payroll manager for World Publishing Co. until she resigned Jan. 31, 2006, and became a part-time accounting employee.
Pennick said she feels fortunate to have worked with the Lorton and Jones families, one-time owners of the World and Tribune, respectively.
"The Lortons have been so kind and gracious to me, and I appreciate all they have done for me through those years," she said.
Robert E. Lorton, former chairman of World Publishing Co., said, "I have known Donna Sue longer than anybody currently with the Tulsa World with the possible exception of Gene Curtis. I joined the Tulsa World in 1959, a few years after she did. She has run the payroll department all that time with great skill and dedication. She did not allow any errors, and with grace and aplomb she weathered many bosses. I have never known a more dedicated and loyal Tulsa World team member. I wish her health and happiness in retirement - and don't stop the annual old-timers lunches."
In all her years as payroll manager, Pennick said she only missed one payroll by one day and one by one hour.
Pennick often could be seen strolling throughout the building, passing out paychecks to all the department heads, who in turn gave the checks to their staffs. On one occasion, she said, she was singing some ditty while handing out the weekly checks when one of the employees asked, "What did you do with the money your folks gave you for singing lessons?" The next week, Pennick jokingly handed him an empty envelope, saying "I blew that money, so I'm using yours for my singing lessons."
One of her more colorful memories harkens to a winter day during the 1960s, when Pennick worked down the hall on the sixth floor from the late Richard Lloyd Jones, who was president of Newspaper Printing Corp.
"We had steel windows with chicken wire through them," Pennick recalled. "It was snowing, and I opened the window and got me a snowball, intending to hit Mr. Jones' secretary with that snowball. She ducked, and Mr. Jones received the full brunt of my stunt. I decided I was the next person to have a termination check.
"He just laughed. He was so sweet."
Much has changed in the past 58 years. Pennick recalls a time when six to eight editions of the Tulsa World and Tulsa Tribune were printed daily. Now, many people rely on their cell phones, desktop PCs or tablet computers to read the paper, she said.
Some life lessons she's gleaned over the years are the importance of "getting a job and staying happy with it," as well as the importance of saving for retirement and being optimistic.
"I've had some bad days, but you just let that go and be appreciative of what things you have," Pennick said. "I've traveled quite a bit through these years, and this is the greatest place on earth which to live."
Ask what she will miss most, Pennick says with hesitation, "The people."
At 77, she's not sure what she'll do in retirement
"I've never been there," she said. "I'll enjoy it, but I'll certainly miss the family here that I've had at the Tulsa World. They've been so gracious."
By the numbers
Changes since Donna Pennick started at Tulsa World in 1955:
11: U.S. presidents who served since she was hired
150 million: Number of people added to U.S. population in last 58 years
12: Teams in the 1955 NFL standings; the league now has 32 teams
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Original Print Headline: Workplace record