Letson works 40-plus years at Kroger, no plans to retire
By BOB LABBE – For the Record
MADISON – Growing up in Madison County Bobby Letson never gave a lot of thought to what he wanted his life to become. He was, what many would consider, a laid-back type of guy who loved the environment around him including his family and friends.
“I just wanted a good job, make good money and have a good family,” said Letson. So, he began his quest to fulfill that dream at age 16 when he took a part time job at Kroger at Huntsville’s Haysland Square located in the south end of the city.
Today, at age 60 with his newest birthday coming in August, Letson is still living that dream as an employee of Kroger at Madison’s new location of the giant grocery chain. Add up the years and you can see he has been with the grocery chain for 44 years. And there’s no end in sight.
“I could retire about a year from now when I turn 62, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to stop working,” said Letson. “I don’t know what I would do if I did retire.”
Letson has been working in Madison since 1994 after stops in the Huntsville and Hartselle locations of Kroger. The latest Kroger opened a year ago where Letson is the scan coordinator making sure all products in the store have the current prices scanned and the up-to-date signage indicating the day’s prices. He works a daily schedule of 4:00 a.m. until noon leading the store in securing correct prices on items when customers hit the checkout counter.
A graduate of Sparkman High in 1974, he decided to take a job while in his junior year. “At that time I thought there were three good jobs in Huntsville,” said Letson of his decision to begin his career with Kroger. “There was Dunlop, Chrysler and Kroger. I thought of other jobs, but I was paid well at Kroger and was very content with both my pay and the environment at Kroger.”
When he first took the job at Kroger, the minimum wage was $1.65. Letson liked the idea Kroger paid $2.15 per hour for his work of 18 hours a week. He worked three six hour shifts of 4:00-10:00 p.m. His first duties at the store was a bag boy.
The Haysland Square Kroger moved about a half mile north of its original location to Logan Drive. He spent 20 years total at both locations. The company then moved him to its location in Hartselle, which is some 26 miles from Madison, where he was given the duties as grocery manager including the duties of ordering food for the store. In 1994, he was transferred to Madison.
“I remember one time I was ordering for Christmas stock and I somehow mistakenly ordered 22 pallets of marshmallows,” said Letson. “I’ve been teased about that ever since.”
Letson is a member of the Local Retail Clerks Union. He has three Kroger uniforms consisting of the traditional Kroger blue shirt and khaki pants. He’s a dedicated employee who loves his loyal and longtime customers. One of those customers became his wife five and a half years ago after meeting her in one of the store’s aisles.
He was training someone to be a store co-manager and they were friends with a woman who stopped by the store. Letson said, “It was love at first sight…at least for me.” After inquiring who this love of his life was, he found out her name was Vicki Lee and they were soon introduced, but it took four months before they had their actual first date. Two months later on Valentine’s Day, 2012, they were married.
“Through his parents I got to know him better,” said Vicki Lee, who works as a receptionist at their church of Crosspointe Church of Madison. “He’s a very special man. He always helps others.”
Letson has two children from a previous marriage while Vicki Lee has one child from her previous marriage. Two of their children live with the loving couple as they are attempting to save money for future endeavors.
He enjoys Alabama football, playing golf and yard work, but Letson is also a musician playing gospel songs whenever possible. In 2014, he was diagnosed with skin cancer and underwent 20 radiation treatments. He has been fully cleared of the disease by his doctors.
The grocery business remains customer based with the major change within his work coming in the form of technology. He uses an electronic scanner made up of a handheld computer. Letson can remember when he first started at Kroger he would use the old stick stamp that would register prices at under one dollar. A band stamp was used for any item at one dollar and above. He also used a label gun during his career.
When asked if anything weird has happened to him during his nearly 45 years with Kroger, Letson answered, with a laugh, “Nothing really strange. I want to keep that batting average, too.”