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Hawker Beechcraft worker retires after 61-year career

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 1, 2012, at 5 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, June 1, 2012, at 9:21 p.m.

When Marvin Abbott started work at Beech Aircraft in January 1951, his father already had been working at the plant for nine years.

Abbott remembers thinking to himself: “How does anyone work in one place for nine years?”

That was the perspective of an 18-year-old — who looked at the duration as half a lifetime. At some point, Abbott stopped asking the question. And on Friday, others replaced it with one of their own:

How does anyone work in one place for more than 61 years?

Abbott retired on Friday, and Hawker Beechcraft feted its longest-serving employee with a reception at the plant where he has worked since Harry Truman was president.

“I started out pushing a hand truck, hauling parts … for 97.5 cents an hour,” he said, recalling his first job at what was then a locally owned aircraft manufacturer.

Owner Walter Beech died a few months before he started, and Abbott recalled Olive Ann Beech’s frequent visits to the plant floor.

“She was a good manager … and a real nice lady,” he said.

Over the years, Abbott would rise into management ranks, where he stayed 37 years, serving in a variety of positions.

He met his wife, Bobbi, at Beech. She started work at the plant in 1977.

“When I hired in, everyone knew Marvin Abbott,” she said. He was a respected and well-liked manager among Beech employees, said Bobbi, who retired after 31 years with the company.

As Beech was bought by Raytheon and then sold again and renamed Hawker Beechcraft, Abbott’s jobs continued to change.

At one point he was told that because he didn’t have a college degree, he would have to go.

He replied that he wasn’t going anywhere.

His bosses, he said, told him he would have to return to an “hourly” job.

So he returned to the stockroom, where he put his common-sense approach and his appreciation of people to work.

“We always had good people,” he said. “You didn’t have to tell them what to do. They knew what to do. They always came through with flying colors.”

Many of those people gathered for Abbott’s reception at Hawker Beechcraft late Friday morning.

Matt Martin, vice president at Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co., recalled what he termed “Marvinisms” for more than 100 co-workers who attended, along with family and friends.

Abbott, he said, is the kind of guy who if he ever won a big lottery prize would still show up for work the next day — and the next year.

Mike Dennett, director of operations for Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co., noted that Queen Elizabeth was celebrating 60 years on the throne — falling short of Marvin Abbott’s achievement.

Born in Hutchinson on the day Franklin D. Roosevelt was first elected president, Abbott, who will turn 80 in November, said he decided earlier this year that he was finally ready to retire. And although he has been at Hawker Beechcraft for 61 years, he’s had a job even longer.

Before landing the job at Beech, he worked part time at a grocery store for 50 cents an hour.

Through the decades, Abbott said he enjoyed watching the company expand, seeing new buildings and projects take over what was once Kansas pasture.

And while the sale to Raytheon changed the culture of the company’s management and the recent bankruptcy filing was a definite low point, there was, Abbott said, more good than bad.

And that, he said, is because of the people who worked with him.

“I always felt blessed to have so many good people.”

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