50-year Cherokee Nation Industries employee Duvall receives retirement sendoff
Lizzie Duvall, who retired from Cherokee Nation Industries after 50 years, had to make her way through a pile of gifts on a table during her retirement party on June 26 in CNI Building 4 in Stilwell. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Among the first employees hired by Cherokee Nation Industries, Lizzie Duvall is pictured in this early photo. She is in the plaid dress, second from right. COURTESY
STILWELL – It isn’t uncommon for an employee to become known as “an institution” at a place of business.
However, the term might understate the career and presence of Lizzie Duvall, who retired on June 26 after 50 years with Cherokee Nation Industries, which threw her a retirement bash inside Building 4.
“I started June 16, 1969,” Duvall said. “This man worked for the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and he was a friend to my grandpa. He told me the Cherokee Nation was coming in, and to fill out the paperwork. I did. At that time, I was working at school as a bilingual (teacher). I got the call, and I started to work.”
Her first work was with telephone relays, and she handled quality control with guidance from the client company. Before long, she was “lead” and taking care of her assembly line. The employment proved convenient – she had two sons who were watched during the day by her aging in-laws, so if they needed a hand, she could be there “in about 12 minutes.”
“For many years, I did lead work,” Duvall said. “When I got tired of it, I asked my supervisor if I could go back on the line, and he told me, ‘I don’t hear you.’ But finally, I went part time and they let me back. I enjoyed sitting on the line, but I enjoyed being the lead, too.”
Losing an employee who is a fixture and so familiar isn’t replaced so easily.
“There aren’t too many employees these days that stay with the same company for 50 years,” Chris Moody, CNI executive general manager for engineering and manufacturing, said. “Businesses go through a lot of changes, and Lizzie has been able to change with us. She has a lot of tenacity and sticks to it. It has allowed her to be able to grow with the company.”
Moody said managing a line involved oversight of production of a certain item. Employees reported to Duvall, and she was responsible for pertinent inventory.
“You have to be detail oriented,” he said. “Lizzie has a strictness to her that makes her a very good line manager. She is good with people, they trust her, and she knows what she is doing. When she gives instructions, people listen.”
There are plenty of builders supporting CNI operations, and the work will get done in Duvall’s absence, but Moody said it will be hard to replace the “cultural piece” of her presence.
“She brings the history,” he said. “She is the mother figure. She will be missed and there won’t be another Lizzie, but she has taught other people. We will have those people who can step in and continue the traditions of CNI and the work that we perform.”
Production supervisor Lori Muskrat is a 36-year employee of CNI, all spent in proximity to her cousin Duvall.
“Lizzie taught me a lot, not just the daily walks of life, but how to be a boss without being bossy,” Muskrat said. “She explained using the word ‘let’s’ and ‘we.’ ‘Let’s do it this way.’ Don’t say ‘I’ or ‘you’ because that is pointing blame. She also taught me how to be a team player. There was also a lot of mentoring on how to be a mother and a grandmother.”
Muskrat said she would miss Duvall’s kindness and “her good food.”
“She is one of a kind,” Muskrat said. “There is no one else like her, and she is a best friend. It’s her acts of kindness I will miss here. Every holiday - every Valentine’s Day, she had valentines for everybody. At Easter, she would make us rabbits out of washcloths, which were multi-purpose. We got to spend time with them as gifts, then we got to use them.”
Over a half century, Duvall saw many changes, including policy and technology. She said in the old days, training was very much on-the-job. While skills are still honed when an employee goes to work, new hires now have the benefit of classroom time to enhance training.
“But right now, I’d say the biggest change of all is those computers. I don’t like them,” she said, smiling.
Duvall said she will miss her colleagues, some of whom she spoke with in Cherokee. She will attend a lot of ballgames, since her kids love to play sports.
“Make your mind up what you are going to do when you retire,” she said. “A person shouldn’t just sit down and not do anything.”
She also hopes her employer will “take care of the jobs.”
“That way it can be a job for the younger ones coming in,” Duvall said. “It might be my grandkids.”