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2021-06-19 14:17 Tag:

MIDDLEBURY ! Fran Bearor has rubbed shoulders with an untold number of people during her half-century as the bookkeeper, manager and jack of all trades at the Agway Farm & Garden store in Middlebury. So talking to people tends to come naturally.

Except last Thursday ! and that¨s only because the person in question was a reporter asking her to say good stuff about herself as she prepared to exit a business to which she has given her entire adult life.

But Bearor, 70, did what she¨s done for Agway since 1971 ! she rose to the occasion and got the job done.

She¨s always had a mind for math, a yen for the business world, and a desire to be with other people. So she tailored her education accordingly while at Vergennes Union High School, from which she graduated in 1969.

^I took office courses ! typing, shorthand, running different machines, ̄ she said.

Her first job upon graduating was actually at the old Kerr-McGee fertilizer plant off Meigs Road in the Little City, at the site of the former Feed Commodities barn that burned in 2018. Kerr-McGee needed a short-term bookkeeper, and Bearor fit the bill, starting in April of 1970.

^It¨s a terrible story, but the manager there was cutting a drum, it exploded, and he died, ̄ Bearor recalled. ^The assistant manager became manager, and they had to quickly find a bookkeeper. The person who became manager knew me, and asked if I could work just during the planting season.

^It was a terrible way to get a job, ̄ she acknowledged.

But she got her first dose of work experience, during what was an eventful year in the nation¨s history.

It was 1970. The Vietnam War was raging amid protests at home. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The Beatles released the album ^Let It Be, ̄ and disbanded. The Apollo 13 crew safely returned to Earth after an oxygen tank explosion during a trip to the moon.

Bearor was only supposed to work at Kerr-McGee until that June, but they kept her on until September.

Fate would also play a big role in her next (and final) landing spot: Agway Inc.

^The lady who was bookkeeper for Agway was pregnant and going on maternity leave, so they needed a (replacement), ̄ she recalled.

Then-manager Claude Dunham hired Bearor for the full-time gig, which was as an assistant to the head bookkeeper. In those days, Agway Inc. was based in the complex off MacIntyre Lane that now hosts the Middlebury Discount Beverage, Nino¨s Pizza, and Cole¨s Flowers.

The bottle-return area within the building once housed Agway¨s tire shop.

While Bearor¨s title was ^bookkeeper, ̄ her tasks were varied and could change from moment to moment depending on where she was most needed. True to this day, she stepped away from the adding machine to order supplies and wait on customers, among other things.

Technology has changed immensely since Bearor joined the company back in ¨71.

During the early years, she used a ^Burroughs machine. ̄ Each time a customer would make a purchase on credit, Bearor would manually insert a ledger card into the Burroughs machine, which would record the receipt number and sales total.

Agway used to keep the ledger cards in a big safe, which is still with the company. Fran jokes the safe has pretty much been her one constant companion throughout her service to Agway.

Back in the day, there weren¨t multiple checkout counters within the store, as there are now.

^We had one (cash) register, because you hand-wrote purchases on tickets, and then totaled them up on an adding machine, ̄ Bearor recalled.

The company has always tried to keep up with the latest accounting system upgrades, Bearor said, transitioning from manual adding machines to calculators and computers. She was schooled along the way in machines that used tape, floppy discs, and so on.

^There were always different machines and programs that we had over the years, ̄ she said, noting the company went full-on into computers when it moved from MacIntyre Lane to its current headquarters at 338 Exchange St. in 1987.

It¨s a spacious building that¨s allowed Agway to grow and evolve during the past 35 years. The company now has around 24 full- and part-time workers tending to what is customarily a beehive of activity. People eagerly scour the aisles for such wares as garden tools and supplies, flowers and plants, clothing, grills, pet food and toys, produce seeds, birdseed and birdhouses, and too much more to fit into this article.

It¨s an eclectic mix compared with the old days, when Agway Inc. was primarily about farm supplies, paint, animal feed and tires.

^It¨s not about the cows anymore, like it used to be, ̄ Fran said.

While she was becoming increasingly indispensable to Agway, Bearor knew her employment wasn¨t guaranteed. Agway Inc. always took stock in its finances and workforce at the end of each fiscal year, she recalled. Managers changed every five years, and one couldn¨t be sure who might ! and might not ! fit into their plans.

And there were bottom lines to meet.

^You never knew what changes they might make in July, ̄ she said of the start of each fiscal year. ^You were kind of on pins and needles, asking yourself, `Am I going to stay?¨ I had a full-time job, and I enjoyed what I was doing. ̄

That tension relaxed a lot around two decades ago, when Scott Jacobs purchased the business. Agway subsequently dropped the ^Inc. ̄ from its name.

While the product line has changed based on the economy and consumer demands, Fran Bearor has remained a constant, dependable and steadying presence at Agway, according to Jacobs. He¨s long-since anointed her ^store manager, ̄ though her expertise remains in bookkeeping, ordering products and troubleshooting.

^She¨s been an integral part of the store as long as most people can remember, and as long as I¨ve known it, ̄ he said.

Bearor has become a trusted confidante for the boss, someone upon whom he leans for advice.

^When I ended up buying this business, Fran believed in me and stuck with it, ̄ Jacobs said. ^She does so much for me personally, and for the store as well. ̄

She has always come through in the clutch, he added, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. It¨s been a more difficult time to re-stock many of Agway¨s products, yet Bearor has found a way.

^She works diligently finding suppliers and making sure we get what we need, ̄ Jacobs said.

Because she primarily works behind the scenes, the general public doesn¨t see a whole lot of Fran Bearor these days. But her impact is felt everywhere, and she¨s made a ton of friends through Agway.

^I can¨t even begin to say how many, ̄ she says with a broad smile.

Bearor officially leaves Agway at the end of this month following what was arguably one of the most challenging years individuals and businesses have ever experienced. The coronavirus tempered the way stores could interact with customers. But Agway successfully adapted by offering curbside pickup of orders and social distancing/face coverings while in the store.

At age 70, Fran is ready to be done with pandemics and a regular work schedule. This seemed like a good time to retire.

^After 50 years, it¨s time for the younger people to take over, ̄ she said. ^By getting other people, you get different tastes; they might order different products than I did. It¨ll be a good thing. ̄

Asked what she¨s enjoyed most during her 50-year run at Agway, Bearor immediately replied, ^The employees and the customers. ̄

Fran and her husband, Charles, have lived in Cornwall since they tied the knot 44 years ago. Charles was a longtime truck driver ! first for Agway Inc., then for Bourdeau Brothers, prior to his retirement. They have two identical-twin daughters, both of whom are educators in South Carolina.

She doesn¨t have a grand retirement plan, but knows she¨ll have more time to volunteer with the Champlain Valley Christian Reform Church in Vergennes.

Fran doesn¨t have any hobbies, she joked, ^because I¨m always here. ̄

So Bearor will begin the next chapter by simply taking some time off to decompress and ^see what happens. ̄

Jacobs is urging folks to stop into the store during the next few weeks to wish Bearor well. Those who can¨t make it can send a card to Fran Bearor, c/o Agway, 338 Exchange St., Middlebury, VT 05753.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.