Three women dedicate their lives to their jobs

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By Natasha Colbaugh

How many employers can say they have a staff member that has been with them 50 plus years? At least three in Campbell County can.
China Willoughby with the Department of Children’s Services, Ruby Childress with Valley View Elementary School and Mildred Asbury with Peoples Bank of the South share over 150 years of hard work toward their chosen professions.
Starting as a junior stenographer in September 1952, Willoughby has worked 58 years for the department of social services.
Willoughby got her start with the department by transcribing short hand on a manual typewriter. She admits the amount of work has changed quite a bit with the use of computers.
Though clerical duties have evolved with the use of technology, Willoughby said the problems facing people remain the same. Willoughby believes she has a true calling to help people. That is what helps continue working to resolve issues of abuse and neglect
“I enjoy it. I feel like in some maybe small way I am able to help someone,” said Willoughby. “It is a hard job, but it’s always good to see a child go back home.”
Willoughby has been a member of the Association of Business and Professional Women for over 50 years. She has no children of her own and has the liberty to take leave to travel. Though retirement crosses her mind occasionally, she never is moved by the idea. Whenever friends see her, the first question is always if she is still working, and the answer is always the same.
“Money is not everything,” said Willoughby. “The satisfaction of helping someone is much more.”
And Childress agrees.
Working for 58 years at Valley View Elementary School has brought continuous rewards when she sees her own students successful in life.
Childress moved to the valley when she was five-years-old and was able to start first grade at Valley View, a two story brick building. She attended first through eighth grade at Valley View. When she graduated from LaFollette High School she wasted no time obtaining a teaching certification and returned to Valley View to teach upper grade classrooms.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” said Childress who started teaching at 17-years-old. “When I applied to start teaching at Valley View there was another woman who was more experienced than me. I ended up getting the job because I could play piano for chapel.”
After 20 years of teaching upper grades, Childress took four years off to be with her two sons. When they were old enough to attend school she returned as well. Childress taught kindergarten when she resumed teaching and has stayed with the youngest students for 38 years.
Childress has seen the amount of students double, and the school itself has tripled in size over the years.
“My health is good. I take it one year at a time,” said Childress about her plans to continue teaching. “I love working with children. I can see the progress and that is why I keep working.”
The times when children walked to school and reports were written on type writers was also a time when Asbury would drink coffee with fellow workers before offices opened.
“We would sit and talk at the coffee shop,” said Asbury about the mornings before work began. “We knew everybody and everybody’s problems and we would try to solve them.”
Starting as a teller in June 1957, Asbury said the community was close and she knew everybody’s name that banked there.
“I would do book keeping and posting, even the adding machine was manual,” said Asbury who has witnessed in her line of work the drastic rise and fall of interest rates through the years.
Asbury was 19-years-old when she started working at the bank. Originally from Claiborne County she would commute to LaFollette with other workers in the early morning hours. Peoples Bank was the only place she applied. Asbury said she needed to go to work because she wanted to buy a car.
And three years after she started working she saved up enough money to buy a 1961 Chevy Impala. Asbury remembers paying $2,250 cash for it.
The bank was closed on Wednesdays. Asbury said the whole town was practically closed on Wednesday and that was the day to go to Knoxville.
“We would wear our high heeled shoes, hats and gloves and walk all over town,” said Asbury with a cheerful demeanor. “Those were the good days. There are still good days now, we just can’t walk those streets in high heels anymore.”
Asbury has worked her way through the ranks at Peoples Bank from teller to vice-president. She moved to Campbell County in 1963 when she married. She and her husband raised their two daughters here.
In 1999, Asbury was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even with 42 years of employment at the time, she hardly missed a day of work while receiving treatment. Cancer had taken her husband three years earlier, but the rare form of cancer Asbury had went into remission.
Asbury was faced with the difficult task of providing for her two daughters alone. At one point she was working two additional jobs to send her girls to college.
“I wanted them to get their education,” said Asbury. “I worked three jobs to get my kids through school.”
Asbury’s hard work paid off. Both of her girls are successful and have traveled the world. But Asbury said she never carried the same sense of adventure.
“I just thought the world was small,” said Asbury who prides herself in her work and community.
“I just wouldn’t enjoy being at home, working is a good dose of medicine,” said Asbury. “I like people. I love talking to them and helping them with whatever they need.”
Willoughby and Childress agree that working is a good dose of medicine. They have rarely missed a day themselves and have plans to continue working as long as they are able. Working and loving the task has been the key to longevity for these three ladies have dedicated 170 years total toward their passions in life.