|Hard Work Has Never Deterred Ronny Neely|
DeKalb Farmers Cooperative’s General Manager Earns
Managing a farm cooperative store can be demanding and exhausting at times, but it’s unlikely any can match what Ronny Neely went through on his dad’s little farm in Tennessee when he was a kid.
Tobacco was the family’s main cash crop and money was so tight that W.C. Neely couldn’t afford insecticides because it was just too expensive.
So, he put little Ronny to work picking worms off tobacco leaves, a chore that he proudly said ended successfully because "I stomped’em good."
Now that he’s reached Social Security-age and may not be able to stomp as hard as he used to as a boy, Neely has proved he can be successful in just about anything else he attempts.
That was evident in February when he was named 2011 E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year at the annual meeting of Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC).
AFC President Tommy Paulk was effusive in his praise for Neely, who is general manager of DeKalb Farmers Cooperative, commending him for taking over a troubled operation and turning it into a winner.
Paulk noted, when Neely assumed command of DeKalb Cooperative in 2003, it had loss-carry-forward’s of $650,392. He also proudly noted it didn’t take him long to turn things around.
"When Ronny took over DeKalb Farmers, the Co-op had suffered several years of losses. With Ronny’s leadership, at the end of their June 30, 2011, fiscal year, all of the loss-carry-forward had been used.
"Because of the improved performance," Paulk said, "(2011) will be their first year to return patronage to their members in many years."
Neely, who had spent 36 years with Gold Kist, was familiar with cooperative operations and had done his homework on the DeKalb situation before becoming manager. As a result, it wasn’t long before dramatic changes were ordered and in place.
One was to close the store in Geraldine. The other was to sell the John Deere dealership at DeKalb. It led to a sales decline as expected, but the belt-tightening move paid off in the long run.
Changes in the DeKalb operation didn’t surprise Paulk and other cooperative leaders who were well aware of Neely’s successful track record at Gold Kist.
"I was privileged to be a pacesetter at Gold Kist for a number of years," said Neely, shortly after the annual meeting ended at the Renaissance Hotel on Feb. 16. "But when I retired I wasn’t really ready to do that. I was only 55 and I wanted to keep working."
That was good news indeed for AFC leaders and they jumped at the opportunity to have Neely join the team.
Two days after Neely retired from Gold Kist in 2003, he began work as general manager of DeKalb Farmers Cooperative which has stores in Rainsville, Crossville and also in Albertville in neighboring Marshall County.
Hard work has never intimidated Neely, not after those days of picking worms off tobacco leaves. So, when jobs became available, he jumped at the chance to grab them.
Case in point was the time he was a teenager and his father knew the manager of a cooperative in Geraldine. He soon was loading trucks, sweeping floors and pitching in whenever and wherever he was needed.
"Gold Kist had a management training program and when an opening came about in 1967, I took it," he said. "I’d like to believe the Lord has blessed me with a measured amount of intelligence."
His past experiences have helped him during his management career and whenever a green employee might complain about this or that in the work environment, he’d let them know that "no matter what happens in this store, I’ve already done it three or four times."
Neely is a firm believer in working hard to produce profits and says focusing on sales can be misleading at times.
"The bottom line in any business is either red or black," he said. "When I took over at DeKalb, it was deep red and hovering near bankruptcy. We immediately put positive practices into operation and they turned things around. I’m proud to say, for the past seven years, the bottom line has been black and it’s going to stay that way."
Some things are beyond the reach of some people and that includes retaining good health. Neely has been treated for prostate cancer, but he’s not waving any white flags. He is an optimist, even when business responsibilities pose problems. His optimism is driven by the love heaped on him every day by his family.
Joining him at the annual meeting in Montgomery were his wife, Susan, and four daughters – Angie Majors, Connie Bedford, Teri Burke and Sherry Strother. He also has two sons and 10 grandchildren who call him "Papa Ronny."
The Neelys are members of Broadway Baptist Church in Rainsville and enjoy traveling whenever possible.
Each December, they host Co-op board members and store staff on a trip to the Smoky Mountains.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.