Making His Mark
Need to know who the people are in a photo from 1956? Ask Mark. Trying to recall when certain processes or procedures were changed or updated and why? Ask Mark. Want to clarify who “so and so” was, how they were related to others and where they used to sit in the office? Ask Mark. Need to make grits for 200 to feed storm help? Ask Mark.
In other words, if you have a question about Okefenoke REMC, it is likely Coordinator of Customer Accounting Mark Middleton will have the answer. After all, he has worked for OREMC for nearly 35 years (37 if you count when he was school help) and grew up with the cooperative as the family enterprise given his father was the assistant general manager, then general manager, before retiring in 1991. Now it is Mark’s turn to retire, and it goes without saying, not only will he leave his own mark on OREMC history, but also a blank space relative to the cooperative’s history when he walks out the door for the last time on April 30, 2021.
While Mark officially began his tenure as school help in 1976, he actually got his start as a child answering after hours outage calls. Back then OREMC consumer-members were instructed to call the serviceman for their area directly (schedules and phone number were published in the newsletter) or the Middleton home number. He or his brothers or sister would get an adult, or as they got older, take down the information and radio the serviceman in the field directly.
Mark stayed on as a work/study student after high school while he took programming classes at Brunswick Junior College (now College of Coastal Georgia). In 1978 he decided it was time to see and do something different and moved to Alabama where he started as an assistant manager trainee at the Pizza Hut in Enterprise, Alabama. Three months later his moved to the Selma Pizza Hut as manager, and four months after that he was promoted to district manager for Northern Alabama.
With restaurant management experience under his belt, Mark returned home to help run his parent’s place, the Paloma Restaurant, now S&S Events. From there he moved on to the tax assessor’s office at the Nahunta Courthouse before returning to OREMC in 1986 as a data entry clerk.
Mark has watched OREMC grow technologically from the first server that took up a whole room to desktops, along with the migration from floppy discs to CDs and USBs. He chuckles saying, “I remember when the greatest programs were WordPerfect and Lotus 123. Then Excel came out and we wondered why anyone would ever want to use it. Why? Because you had to use a mouse!”
“Back when I was student, and in my early data entry days at OREMC,’ he continues, “everything was manual, done on paper and calculated using an adding machine. Very few of us had an equivalent of a modern-day calculator. Ledgers were on rolling carts and each little task tied the whole billing process together . . .you understood how thing worked. Now you simply key things into a field and the program produces an answer.”
From data entry to billing calls and collections, Mark eventually moved from behind the scenes to the front of the house as customer service manager, then a meter reading supervisor. It was during his time as the meter reading supervisor the Mark hired nearly a dozen people that still work at OREMC today. As he notes, meter reading was typically how most people started at OREMC back then.
“And the reason all those employees wanted to come to work here then rings true today . . . OREMC is a great place to work,” insists Mark. “It is a good group of employees whose mission remains the same: providing service to our members. I enjoy my job and I’m going to miss the people, but I won’t miss the 40-hour work week,” he remarks with a grin.
He isn’t going far, just over the railroad tracks. Initially he plans to stay busy with some home improvement and landscaping projects, as well as some family trips over the summer. Once his wife, Cindy, retires they hope to do some more extensive traveling across the United States including the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest and Montana. But he notes, “There are places in Georgia I’ve yet to see as well.”
Meanwhile, back at OREMC, several people will be taking over different parts of Mark’s job. He is the one with experience in “un poco de todo” or a bit of everything. While Mark may be the walking encyclopedia of OREMC history, history will certainly reflect the positive impact and mark he has left on OREMC.