Photo: Dot Lane poses for a photo outside Koch Foods of Gadsden. (Courtesy of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
Koch Foods of Gadsden Purchasing Manager Dot Lane was recently awarded by Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill for her 55 years of dedicated service in the poultry industry.
Since beginning her managerial career in 1974 at Walley Milling Company, Lane has been an essential player in no fewer than three company mergers.
“It’s been an amazing career,” Lane said. “I’ve loved it because no matter who owned us at the time, it’s been very good to me. I feel like I’ve always earned my keep because the first job I actually went to ask for is the only job I’ve ever asked for. Every merge or sellout, I was asked to be a part of the management.”
Lane said she first came into the industry “not to stay.” She said money was tight around the time her son started school, so Lane began looking for a job.
“My husband had told me (about) the industry,” Lane said. “He owned furniture stores, and the economy was, at the time, not as well. He told me, ‘Well, you need to go to work.’”
Lane took night classes for two years to earn her IBM Certification in data processing, after which a local employment office matched her with Walley Milling Company. The company was setting up a large data processing center at the time, so Lane was made responsible for organizing the accounts payable and receivable.
She then began working as an administrative assistant after she was recognized for her skill and her honest, “forthright” manner.
“I really started it as a career when I was made — in 1974, I think it was — management,” Lane said. “The administrative assistant (role) though, from ‘67 to 1974, I had served under the executive vice president, and he was a great teacher.”
Lane studied management training through continuing education classes, joining the Purchasing Management Association of Alabama.
After the three main poultry operations in the state of Alabama — Walley, Clegg and Bagley — merged into one organization under the name Spring Valley Farms, they were bought by Kentucky Fried Chicken. Although former Kentucky Governor John Y. Brown owned KFC then and facilitated the sale, Lane said the Walleys did know KFC Founder Colonel Sanders “quite well.”
During the KFC ownership, Lane became purchasing manager for all of Alabama in the first inklings of her current responsibilities. She also helped oversee the sale, which piqued her interest in legal matters.
Lane took a law course on contracts and was given several lawbooks by the company. She could also go to her brother-in-law William Dortch with legal queries.
Tyson Foods became the next owner of the Spring Valley Farms, acquiring the business in 1992.
“It wasn’t just one thing that I did to become a corporate (employee) and set up the purchasing department for Tyson Foods,” Lane said.
Tyson hired Lane to help create its purchasing department. She flew back and forth — sometimes weekly — to work in Arkansas setting up the department.
“One advantage for me, I had all the [legal knowledge from the KFC merger] in setting up purchasing departments,” Lane said. “Once we had everything organized and started hiring, [I was] flying back and forth.”
Lane helped facilitate yet another sale of Spring Valley Farms from Tyson to Koch Foods in 2007. Both companies ended up offering Lane a job.
According to Lane, Tyson offered to relocate her permanently to Arkansas, but with her mother facing medical difficulties, Lane decided against it and instead moved from Oxford to Gadsden to be with her mother.
“I weighed my options, and with my mother’s health, it was just not a good thing for me to go to Arkansas,” she said. “My mother was really the sole reason at the time because my husband had passed away, and you know, my mother was of a major concern. I weighed the decision, though, very much. Tyson gave me two weeks for an answer.”
She explained that the Chicago-based company’s name is pronounced “as if you were to ‘cook’ dinner.”
“Joe Grendys is a sole owner of Koch Foods,” Lane said. “A real good friend of his and also the executive vice president of all procurement at one time had worked with me at corporate Tyson and knew me. So that’s how they came to influence me to be employed by Koch.”
Lane has been stationed at the Gadsden branch of Koch foods since 2007.
“I saw hard times with agriculture,” she said. “With the 55 years I spent in agriculture, [I saw] what it has meant to Alabama, to Georgia (and to) all of our Southern states. In the hard times, when times were really bad, people still ate chicken.”
Lane grew up on a farm, but her family raised cattle.
“I would tell people, ‘If you want a career, Goodyear would go down, this business would close, but everybody eats chicken,’” Lane said. “I encouraged people that loved the farm, (like) my brothers (to consider the poultry industry).”
Lane worked to strengthen the APEA in the 1980s during her time as a board member, comparing it sometimes to the cattlemen’s association. Both, she asserted, are “strong.”
Lane was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association in 1981, an accomplishment that she still regards with pride.
“My parents taught us, ‘Always do the job the very best you can, no matter if it’s honorable,’” Lane said. “‘Always do the very best, no matter what you do.’ My dad always said, ‘If you dig ditches, make sure it’s the best ditch ever dug.’ That kind of was for my brothers because they knew that sister (wouldn’t be digging ditches). I was the oldest of my five brothers growing up.”
According to Lane, both her parents instilled in her the importance of hard work.
“Mother was something else,” Lane said. “She could quilt; she could darn, sew; she could cross stitch; she could do everything. I just couldn’t sit still long enough.”
Hard work has been vital to her family’s well-being for many years.
“My dad was very limited with education,” Lane said. “His father died when he was 8 and his sister was 6, so they went through some hard times. In my junior year, my dad was a core engineer. They pulled out, and he was without a job. He had the dairy, [but] there was a very terrible thing that happened. His barn burned, and it was very difficult. A couple of my brothers were outstanding athletes and had scholarships, but they felt that they needed to stay home and help at home. Being the oldest, I said, ‘No. I’ll go to work and help.’”
Lane said the love of the agricultural trade, their faith in God and a little Alabama baseball got them through hard times.
“My husband was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and very dedicated Christian, and I grew up with very Christian, dedicated parents,” she said.
Though she joked that she was “born into” the University of Alabama fanbase, Lane said her husband attended Alabama. Her eldest grandson also earned his bachelor’s at UA.
Lane said her parents taught her to value learning and education from a young age.
“My dad taught me,” she said. “I read before I started to school. So did my son. But my dad taught me to add, divide and subtract with Coke bottles when I was 5 and started to school. He he started out giving me one Coke bottle. Then he’d add another one and (say), ‘How many do you have? One and one is two,’ and so forth.”
Lane said she has made a conscious effort to never stop learning and growing.
“I’ve always been an avid reader (and) loved education, so it was just a growing process through all the years,” she said. “And I still try to grow. I tell them here (at Koch Foods), ‘Knowledge is powerful. Continue to grow.’”
When times were hard in her career, Lane said she went to her employers for help and made the most of her own knowledge, but never did she compromise her character.
“My integrity I won’t sacrifice,” she said. “I was reared to be honest and be forthright, and I’ve always been that way.”
Lane said she has no plans of retiring.
Lane joked that “one of these days, I may wake up that morning and decide, ‘You know, I don’t think I’ll go to work today,’” but that day is not in her near future.
“[My family] all live out of state, and I have been a widow since 1994,” she said. “It’s been my life.”