At the Hebbeler family-owned Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New Haven, one employee touts the achievement of working with four generations of the family over the span of 65 years.
Evelyn “Evie” Baer, 84, New Haven, was first hired at the plant in 1953 as a bookkeeper. She said she still remembers how Edward “Ep” and Marie Hebbeler, then owners, drove to her family farm to offer her a job working as a bookkeeper in the office.
Baer was wearing her milking overalls when the pair arrived. After a short stint at a shoe factory, she had been recommended to the Hebbeler family through a mutual friend. She said the Hebbelers hiring her was the best thing that ever happened to her.
“I can still remember them driving that fancy car up our road,” Baer said. “That day changed my life.”
At that time, the plant, founded by Edward A. Hebbler, was a bakery, ice cream shop and ice vendor. Baer says she remembers after church on Sundays, her father would take her to get ice from the Hebbeler shop that they’d use to make homemade ice cream.
For the next six and a half decades Baer eagerly has worked at the plant’s office, taking on new challenges and keeping up with the changing business climate.
Baer even met her husband, Ralph, through her job when the plant was still located in Downtown New Haven. He worked at a butcher shop nearby and would come around the factory to get ice. The two married in June 1955.
She said some of the toughest changes during that time were switching from typewriter to computer, the massive amount of products the plant took on, and, most challenging, leaving the downtown New Haven location in 1965. At that point, she had worked at the downtown location for almost 15 years.
Baer recalls riding on the back of a truck that carried her desk to the current plant off Highway 100, as it was taken to the new plant. She says she wanted to make sure none of her papers went missing.
Meticulous bookkeeping has always been an important part of the job she says, and still what keeps her from slowing down. While she has parted ways with some more taxing parts of the jobs, due to her health, she says she still looks forward to working every day.
She says three years ago when she had heart valve surgery, she had to be away from the plant for five weeks. After the surgery, even at 81, she says more than anything she was eager to get back to work.
“Those were the longest weeks. I really missed the people,” Baer said. “I’m lucky to be my age and still be able to work. But my philosophy in life is my job is what keeps me going.”
Baer says a big part of why she loves working at the plant is the family atmosphere the Hebbelers maintain. She says she’s always felt like she’s part of their family, and says watching the now President, Ellen Zobrist, formerly Hebbler, and Vice President Ron Hebbeler and other Hebbeler children grow up has been an amazing part of her life. She remembers the year she started working at the plant was the same year Zobrist was born.
“They’re so good to the people. The bosses are just splendid to us,” Baer said. “They treat me like family and I’ve watched all these children grow up.”
She recalls the many opportunities the Hebbelers gave to her and other plant employees over the years, like the time she and her co-workers saw Michael Jackson live in concert in Kanas City.
The women who worked in the office with her, including Zobrist, were also a big part of the joy of the job. She says her co-workers have been both mentors and mentees throughout her 65 years at the plant.
Baer is the longest-serving employee at the plant, and she believes she’s the longest-serving Pepsi employee in the state.
Baer’s daughter, Debbie Duvall, says working at the plant has been one of her mother’s greatest joys. She said her mother is a sort of “Rock of Gibraltar” for the plant.
“Whenever they have trouble trying to remember something they go to her,” Duvall said.
Even after all this time, for Baer, there’s no end in sight. She says she plans to work at the plant until she no longer can. She says having a reason to get out of bed every morning keeps her going.
“It’s been a wonderful ride,” Baer said. “I’ll keep working as long as my health holds up.”