Planters story more than just peanuts

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2006

Imagine being so excited about a job that you would walk some five miles a day to do it.

That’s what Edna Powell did when, as a teenager, she landed a job at Planters Nut and Chocolate Company.

Each day, from her home in Driver, Ms. Powell, now 99, would walk all the way to downtown Suffolk.


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Managing editor Douglas Grant interviewed Ms. Powell for a story to be included in the News-Herald’s Planters Centennial edition that will publish later this month.

Planters founder Amedeo Obici paid her in gold coins. She wound up working at the company for 48 years.

Ms. Powell began attending Canaan Baptist Church in 1916 at the age of 10 and still attends. In October, she turns 100. God bless her.

Richmond resident Bridget Gentile Melito, 85, vividly remembers delivering lunch to her father at Planters Peanuts during the 1930s.

Ms. Melito’s father, Nick Gentile, worked in the company’s roasting department for several years.

Ms. Melito was raised in Hall Place, and I’m sure her visits to Planters are among her fondest memories.

“Mother made fresh bread every morning and I would always run it up to the third floor (of Planters) to him,” she recalled. “He always made sure I left with a handful of hot peanuts, fresh out of the roaster.”

What a great childhood memory!

Those memories are but a few great stories that will be featured in the section.

– Readers can read about WLPM n the call letters stood for World’s Largest Peanut Market — the radio station started by Planters that went on the air in 1939 and which played the background music for much of the 20th century of the Suffolk story.

– Betty Cross Pretlow, as a Suffolk High School senior in 1941, was tapped as Harvest Queen. She had the honor, or burden, of wearing the 75-pound peanut dress, a distinction she shares with her granddaughter, Denson Ann Pretlow, who as Harvest Queen in 1991 wore a 50th anniversary re-creation of the dress.

– Planters even spawned a church — New Mount Joy Food for Living Ministry, Inc. The church grew out of a regular prayer meeting conducted at Planters 50 years ago by Bishop William P. Wiggins Sr.

I knew going in to this project that Planters had a huge impact on Suffolk, but the personal stories such as those mentioned above, really put it in perspective.

While neither Planters nor the peanut industry in general may wield the influence in Suffolk they once did, their influence is still being felt today.

The memories of yesterday seem unfathomable by today’s standards. It is difficult to imagine 50 years hence, people talking about bringing fresh, home-baked bread to their daddy working at Lockheed, or someone walking miles and miles each day to work at Target.

Those days are gone n not just in Suffolk, but everywhere. We hope to be able to recapture a little of it for you in our upcoming Planters section. Watch for it later this month.

Andy Prutsok is publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at, or at 934-9611.