December 2017
Co-op Matters

44 Years and Going Strong

Faye Shumate has been greeting customers by name at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op for over four decades.

  Faye Shumate, 84, holds the trophy she received for being named the 2010 Cattleman of the Year by the Dallas County Cattlemen’s Association.

Ask Faye Shumate about friendship and she’ll respond with a big smile and a definition.

"To have a friend you have to be a friend," she said as she concluded another sale at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma.

"Ms. Faye," as she’s known to just about everybody in the Black Belt region, has been working at the Co-op for 44 years and considers it to be her second home.

When customers walk through the front door, they know they’ll be greeted with an ear-to-ear smile and their first name.

She was hired Nov. 5, 1973, by a manager who couldn’t wait to bring her onboard because he was aware of her popularity in the area.

"Please fill out some paperwork. Now, when can you start?" he asked.

"Right away," she responded.

She was at work the following Monday and is still at it well into her fourth decade of service to the community.

At the age of 84, illnesses have slowed her down a bit, but that’s understandable. Her work status now is part-timer, but Ms. Faye doesn’t see it as any kind of demotion.

"I just enjoy what I do and hope I can keep working here as long as possible," she said. "It keeps me going."

She began losing her balance 10 years ago and tests revealed she had vertigo. She has never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s movie by that name, but it’s the real thing, not something out of Hollywood.

In April, she had a heart attack and a stent got her back on track. A four-prong cane enables her to get around, but she spends much of her time behind the front counter, reducing the need to walk around the Co-op very long.

Many folks her age are still in bed at 7:30 a.m., but Ms. Faye is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by that time, ready to greet the first customers of the day.

Central Alabama Farmers Co-op General Manager Tim Wood and veteran employee Faye Shumate enjoy the sunshine outside the Selma business.  

General Manager Tim Wood first met her during his preteen years when she displayed a work ethic still remembered by those who watched her.

"I used to come here with my dad when I was a boy. Now, she’s watched my kids grow up," he said. "Having her here is as important to us as it is to her."

Wood marvels at her ability to memorize the names of customers as well as occasional visitors. She doesn’t need file folders or a cabinet. She knows the names of customers who have been dealing with the Co-op for decades.

"She may not know the name of everything we have on our shelves but she’s never forgotten the customers she considers members of her family," he added.

Wood played football for the Auburn Tigers, but Ms. Faye doesn’t allow that to cause a fuss because of her allegiance to the Crimson Tide.

"When I come to work during the football season I’ll say ‘Roll Tide’ to Tim and he’ll say ‘War Eagle’ to me," she said. "He’s a super nice boss and I don’t know if I could ever work for anybody else."

Her husband was Eli Shumate, but everybody just called him "Red." He drove a truck for Bush Hog. They had a good life together before he passed away at the age of 59.

A widow for the past 26 years, she balances loneliness with help from supportive friends as well as taking part in church activities. She’s a people person and it pays off.

Her church has always been her anchor, especially since Red passed away. She rarely misses a Sunday morning service and always carries her Bible with her.

"I read it every morning with my breakfast and right now I’m into Isaiah 25. Thanking the Lord for what you’ve got can help you get through the day."

She spends much of her time making cookies. Her specialties are fruit drop cookies, pecan tarts, fudge and other sweet things from a sweet lady.

With four children, five grandchildren and lots of friends who drop by to visit, she enjoys making cookies for treats.

  Debbie Kynard, seated, is one of the Co-op’s administrative staff and Ms. Faye drops by to say “Hi” on occasion.

One of her many admirers is Ronnie Leet, whose family operated a business in Selma for many years and provided her with a livelihood.

"Being around Faye made our day," Leet said. "She was always positive and smiling. My mother was disappointed when she left us for another job, but we understood it was something she felt she needed to do."

The Leets maintained a warm relationship with her.

"I still go up to her and give her a big hug whenever I’d see her," Leet said.

A few years ago, Ms. Faye received a special award from the Dallas County Cattlemen’s Association. It was a beautiful silver bowl with her name engraved on it.

It seemed unusual for a woman to receive a "CattleMEN’s" award, but she didn’t mind. It was an honor she cherishes and keeps it on display at her home.

"I was shocked over the award," she said. "They kept it a secret from me until it was time to make the announcement."

Debbie Kynard, one of the administrative staff, has worked at the Co-op for the past 13 years and is one of Ms. Faye’s best friends.

"People want to know where she is if she’s not here," she said, referring to her friend’s occasional medical problems. "When she’s not here, we all are worried."

Kynard and the other employees are aware of her setbacks, but are just as convinced she’ll be back behind that counter to greet customers.

Her determination to keep working as she pushes toward her mid-80s has been noted by friends aware of her ability to bounce back from adversities in the past.

As November neared, she took a few hours off to check on a friend who was ill. She is ready to lend a hand to anyone who needs one.

Most of all, she’s not going to let vertigo and a heart attack keep her from helping someone who is ailing.

She’s been down, but not out, in the past and always finds a way to bounce back and flash that infectious smile of her.

"She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’," Kynard said.


Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.