Half-century Chesapeake Utilities employee still going strong at 75

“I’m here every day and that’s what keeps me going,” said Clarence ‘Junior’ Council. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — It’s plain old Cheerios for breakfast, none of that sugary Honey Nut stuff.

A peanut butter jelly sandwich follows for lunch, along with an oatmeal cookie and Lance peanut butter crackers, washed down with water or soda.

When Clarence “Junior” Council deviates, which is rare, he’ll pack chicken salad for his mid-day meal and surprise co-workers to his slight amusement.

“I love to laugh, cut it up at times, have fun,” he said, describing his general approach to everyday life.

Other than that, Chesapeake Utilities’ longest serving employee ever — currently in his 53rd year for a company that’s 160 years old — mostly keeps the same routine every day.

The Smyrna High graduate (Class of 1963) has no plans to retire, adding to his record longevity each day he reports to work.

There may come a time when Mr. Council calls it quits but a recent doctor’s checkup confirmed he’s quite healthy. He said his late mother lived 90 infirmity free years until the last three weeks and believes he’s blessed with genes that endure.

Now in his 53rd year, Smyrna native Clarence “Junior” Council started work at Chesapeake Utilities on Aug. 21, 1967. Submitted photo/Chesapeake Utilities

“I’m 75 but don’t feel it,” he said from headquarters on Energy Lane last Thursday. “I thought if I made it to 75 I might be in a rocking chair but I’m not.

“I’m here every day and that’s what keeps me going.”

Mr. Council was born on Nov. 11, 1944 at Kent General Hospital in Dover. He grew up on the family dairy farm where the Garrisons Lake Golf Course is now located south of Smyrna next to U.S. 13.

Prior to Chesapeake, Mr. Council was a six-year member of the Delaware National Guard who responded to the Wilmington riot of 1968 but never fired his M-16.

“When they handed us live ammunition I knew it was a serious situation,” he recalled.

The job begins

Mr. Council was working for Culligan Water with no benefits more than five decades ago when friend Dick Weaver urged him to apply to Chesapeake. The men met regularly at the Smyrna Diner, which is where the suggestion arose.

After passing tests and qualifying for employment, Mr. Council began work at the Bank Lane headquarters on Aug. 21, 1967. He earned $1.60 an hour or $64 weekly or $3,328 annually in base pay.

His first duties were as a service specialist, which transitioned into a meter reader, followed by a continuing career path to being a corrosion specialist (preventive maintenance checks) for residential, commercial and industrial sites.

The paycheck was minuscule compared to 2019 and so was Chesapeake Utilities. The natural gas company now has 200 employees serving Delmarva, and to his chagrin Mr. Council long since stopped having a personal connection with all of them.

“Folks here walk by and say ‘Hi Mr. Council’ and I feel kind of bad because I don’t know some of them,” he said.

Longest-serving Chesapeake Utilities employee Clarence “Junior” Council surveys for a potential natural gas leak. Submitted photo/Chesapeake Utilities

“ … Ever since I’ve been here the company has continued to grow and grow and grow. I’m tickled to death to be here and we are a good company that’s still expanding.”

When/if retirement comes, Mr. Council will miss his co-workers who he said are “wonderful people“ along with those he’s met along the route and shared mutual assists with.

“I like helping people, especially the elderly,” he said. “People have helped me, so why not help other people?”

He’s not all work all the time — on off days Mr. Council might play nickel and dime poker, visit family with his wife or fill his plates at Pennsylvania smorgasbords. There have been a few trips to Las Vegas and the view of Mount Olympia near Seattle, Washington remains unforgettable.

Shane E. Breakie has been with the company for 26 years “and to think that’s only half of what (Mr. Council) has been here really puts it into perspective.”

Chesapeake’s vice president is regularly reminded of Mr. Council’s reach among the community at social gatherings.

“It’s truly incredible how many times I have someone ask about him,” Mr. Breakie said. “They’ll ask about the gas man, how’s he doing, haven’t seen him in a couple years, things like that.

“I can’t even imagining doing 56 years of anything, especially when it comes to the constant walking and moving that he does while on duty.”

Said Autumn Chalabala, Chesapeake’s director of business operations, “We are proud of Junior, of his accomplishments, and of the contributions that his years of service represent.

“He has a personal relationship with many customers in our service territory who appreciate his friendliness, assistance and conversation.”

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