Walker Farmers Co-op Manager, Ricky Aldridge,
2006 Manager of the Year
By Alvin Benn
Tommie Sue Black not only gave birth to him 42 years ago, she also saved him from rats that attacked him in his crib when he was 11 months old.
"She did everything for me," said Aldridge, just after he received the E.P. Garrett Manager of the Year Award for 2006 at last month’s annual meeting of the Alabama Farmers Cooperative. "She was my mother and father."
Black and her four children were so poor that the Jasper house where they lived had been condemned. They didn’t have enough money to move into "something nice."
The previous "tenants" were huge rats that refused to leave. Black compared them in size to "gophers" and will never forget the morning she awoke to find her baby unresponsive and covered in blood.
"They crawled into Ricky’s bed and began to bite him so much they sucked out a lot of his blood," she said. "I tried to wake him but couldn’t. Then, I placed him under the faucet and poured cold water on him. That worked."
Rat bites led to painful rabies shots for the baby as well as his mother and sister.
When the family finally moved into public housing, they considered it a major step up in life.
"I grew up on welfare and when we moved into the projects I thought we were rich," said Aldridge, who was surrounded by well-wishers congratulating him on his award.
"He is very talented," AFC’s President Tommy Paulk said in announcing Aldridge’s selection to a large crowd at the annual meeting held at the Wynfrey Hotel. "He can build anything and is excellent in drawing and painting."
Aldridge was also quite an athlete during school where he starred as a defensive end on the football team. He once was picked on the Walker County All-Star Team.
At an early age, he began to accompany his grandfather to the local Quality Co-op store in Jasper and fell in love with the surroundings that greeted him.
When he finished high school, he went to work at WFC. His first jobs involved loading feed and fertilizer and driving a forklift.
After a decade at WFC, Aldridge went into construction, but was lured back to the business he knew best as assistant manager. In 1999, he became the manager.
"When I was asked if I wanted to be the manager I never hesitated," he said. "I said I would do my best. I knew I could handle it. I knew all the farmers in Walker County."
When Aldridge completed his first year as manager, the WFC had $44,346 in patronage savings. Since that time, WFC has returned $420,385 in patronage savings to members, including nearly $100,000 during the most recent fiscal year.
In 2006, WFC’s sales to patrons amounted to $1.9 million and inventory turns were 5.04 with accounts receivable at 73 percent current.
It’s been more than four decades since his days in the Jasper housing project, but memories linger and Aldridge won’t soon forget them or the important advice from his loving mother.
"She’d say ‘work as hard as you can every day all day and you can have anything in life you want,’" he recalled. "My grandfather would say the same thing to me, too."
Aldridge admits he has an addiction. It’s a four-letter word—WORK.
"I guess I work between 80-90 hours a week during spring season," he said. "I work at the Co-op Monday through Saturday and then spend Sunday spreading fertilizer."
He’s so addicted to work that he has time for little else, including watching the Super Bowl.
"He’s one of those people who can’t work enough," his mother said. "And, he’s always helping those who need it. If you have a flat tire, he’ll stop to fix it for you."
After raising four children and spending years working in restaurants, a bakery and a beauty shop, Black, 63, is taking it easy. She’s never far away from her youngest child, either.
"I was divorced when Ricky was just a baby, so it was a big job for me to raise him and his brother and two sisters, but we managed," she said.
Black was notified of her son’s award a week before AFC’s annual meeting and found keeping it a secret was one of the hardest things she’s ever had to do.
"I was afraid I’d slip up and say something to tip him off," she said. "But, I was able to keep it to myself."
In addition to his Manager-of-the-Year award, Aldridge, who is not married, got something pretty special. It was a brand new candy apple red pickup—one of the biggest made by Ford.
When Paulk handed the keys to him during the awards segment of the program, his mother was just behind him with other members of the family.
Her big smile said it all.
Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.