If you worked at the same organization for decades, you might start to think about how much time you’ve spent doing the same thing.
Not Richard Heimer. But, there is one thing he’s able to easily quantify. Nov. 17, 2021 marked the 45th anniversary of when he started working at Alphapointe.
Heimer’s first job in 1976 involved assembling retractable pens with caps. Since then, he’s served in a number of different roles, including working on the packing line, the paint line, the marker line and with starch products to name just a few.
That begs the question: in a career spanning across six(!) different decades, Heimer’s certainly personally responsible for making thousands and thousands of items. But, how many?
“I haven’t ever thought about that,” he said laughing. “I wouldn’t even know how to figure out how many things I’ve made. When I’m running a machine, I can run about 6,000 pens per day. So, over 45 years, that would be a lot of pens and other items.”
That is most certainly an understatement.
Born in Edina in the northeast portion of Missouri in 1953, Heimer lost his sight before he was four years old.
“I was on the farm and I was playing and chasing my sister,” he said. “I ran up behind her and got hit in the eye with a hoe.”
Several surgeries followed, but Heimer’s sight was never the same. He attended the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis from kindergarten all the way through high school. Then, it was time to find a job.
At the suggestion of his high school shop teacher, Heimer relocated to San Antonio. But, this wasn’t the city in Texas that everyone knows. This San Antonio was in Florida. And, this town of 1,100 people is – by Florida standards – in the middle of nowhere as it’s about 40 minutes northeast of Tampa. Heimer worked on a chicken farm for about three years before it went out of business.
Then, it was back to his home state.
“I figured Kansas City would be a little better,” he said with a chuckle.
His counselor recommended Alphapointe – then known as Kansas City Association for the Blind. Forty-five years later, Heimer’s seen a lifetime’s worth of events. He married and had two children. He now has four grandchildren. He loves spending time with his family.
His work at Alphapointe and his colleagues are very important to him as well.
“I like coming to work every day and seeing the same people,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere. I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends here at Alphapointe.”
Interestingly, one of those friends was Bernice McNeill. She started at Alphapointe in 1951 and retired in 2002. At 51 years and three months, McNeill is believed to be the longest-tenured team member in the organization’s 100+ year history.
Now that Heimer’s reached 45 years, maybe he’ll give some thought to breaking that record?
“No sir,” he said immediately before breaking into a laugh. Heimer plans to work for two more years and then retire when he turns 70-years old.
When he looks back on his life and career, one of the things he thinks about is the importance for people with low vision to receive training so that they can lead independent lives.
“I think it’s important for kids to receive training when they’re young,” Heimer said. “Things like mobility training – it’s really important at an early age. People who are blind want to do all sorts of things and when you get early training, it makes it a lot easier.”
So says the man who’s made thousands and thousands and thousands of items.