Joyce Herndon is a one-of-a-kind bookkeeper for the Staunton Union Stockyards. As WMRA’s Jessie Knadler discovered in the latest profile for our Women of Interest series, Herndon is all about vitality, longevity and the value of hard work.
[Cows mooing in the stockyard]
Joyce Herndon has been working fulltime at the Staunton Union Stock Yards since 1991.
JOYCE HERNDON: I’m the secretary, bookkeeper, accounts receivable, accounts payable, do most everything
On sale days, farmers from all over the Shenandoah Valley bring in their cattle for auction.
It could be from 500 to 1500 cows for sale at a time. She and two other ladies in the front office stay until every last cow is paid for and processed. That can take until 7 p.m., 9 p.m., 1 a.m. The latest she’s stayed is 4 o’clock the following afternoon.
So Joyce Herndon has some stamina. But there’s something else you should know about her.
HERNDON: I’m 82.
Yeah, she’s 82. How many 82 year olds do you know who can pull the rare all-nighter?
HERNDON: I’ve done it so long that I reckon I’m used to it. I think your body gets immune, or whatever.
JESSIE KNADLER: I couldn’t do that.
HERNDON: That’s what my daughter says. [laughs]
KNADLER: Well, how do you do it?
HERNDON: I don’t know. They don’t know how I do it. They say, how do you do it? I say, well, I don’t know. We just do it.
It helps that Herndon really likes her job. Getting up and going to work everyday – even on those brutal sale days -- is not a burden.
HERNDON: I don’t feel 82. I don’t feel my mind is 82. I still feel like my mind is 40. [10:59] I love working on books, bookkeeping, talking on the telephone, talking with the people, joking [laughs].
She also really likes her bosses – two brothers also in their 80s. They’re the ones who persuaded her to stay on when she first considered retirement at age 65.
HERNDON: They didn’t want me to quit. And I didn’t really want to quit. I thought, well, maybe I’ll work until I’m 70. Then I got to be 70 and I still liked it, and I was still active, and I felt like my mind was good. Then I thought, well, I’ll work until 75. And it just kept going on like that. Now here I am, 82 [laughs].
In fact, the joke around the office is that Herndon may never retire—voluntarily.
HERNDON: They said they were going to build my coffin for me and when I died they’d carry me out [laughs] in the coffin [laughs]. They’d kid me about that all the time.
She thinks that the work itself – bookkeeping, working with numbers all day – keeps her mind sharp and stimulated. Bookkeeping, she says, can sometimes be like a puzzle.
HERNDON: When you can’t find something….in your bookkeeping and you know it’s right there….as I used to tell the other girls, It’s in there. It’s in there somewhere….in the numbers, and all of the sudden there it is. Wonderful! We’re back to zero again.
So she’s got a great attitude. Her mind is sharp. She’s surrounded by longtime friends and colleagues. All of this is key for maintaining vitality. But there are a few conditions that have made it possible for her to keep working into her ninth decade. Number one, it’s a desk job. She’s not on her feet all day. Number two, the stock yard doesn’t do computers.
HERNDON: I don’t know how to use one and I don’t want to learn at 82. When people come in and ask us to look up something, sometimes we have it in five minutes. They’ll say, well, that was fast.
Herndon’s husband passed away after 55 years of marriage in 2009. They had three children, five grandchildren and now she has six great grandchildren.
HERNDON: I just feel like I’m so lucky to have found this job, and it was what I wanted, actually, because I grew up on a farm, loved the farm. And when I found this job, I thought, Oh, I just love it. Being around the farmers and hear the farm talk like I did growing up. And that’s another reason why I don’t want to quit. I just…I’m just so attached.
Work feels like home. How many people can say that?
HERNDON: I have no regrets. And if I had to do it over again I believe I’d do the same thing. I’d work as long as I could [laughs].
And that’s no bull.