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Audrey Archer is 100 years old, and she's still working. Allow me to rephrase this statement. Audrey Archer is 100 years young, and she's still working — young because a person who continues to find substance in her work after all this time truly never grows old.
In December 1963, Archer first interviewed for a bookkeeping position at George T. Sanders Company (GTS), a plumbing & heating distributor based in Colorado. During the interview, Archer was upfront with previous owner George T. Sanders. She planned on working for the company for five years tops.
So much for plans. Archer has now been with GTS for 50 years. Although her position was bookkeeper, her interests were versatile. Over the years, Archer has juggled party planning, secretarial, credit and record management roles.
“Dad hired Audrey for five years, and I had to put up with her for 45,” laughed Gary T. Sanders, current owner and executive chairman at GTS. “Audrey and I have worked together for 104,000 hours. I think I know her pretty well. Audrey Archer is synonymous with the George T. Sanders Company.”
On April 1, 1950, George and wife Pauline first opened the doors of GTS. Although the company began as a sheet metal business for heating contractors in Denver, over the years the company has expanded across 15 locations with over 150 employees and transformed into one of the largest copper pipe suppliers for plumbing and mechanical contractors in the state of Colorado.
George T. Sanders passed away in July 1972, leaving the business to sons Gary T. and Norman P. Sanders. The Sanders brothers are fortunate to have had so much time with Archer. However, they are only two people in the long line of admirers. Quite literally, almost every person in the Colorado lines of business has crossed paths with Archer at one point or another.
One of the biggest reasons why Archer knows everyone is because she has taken the time to know. For example, the company hosts a product carnival each fall — a major event for GTS customers and employees alike. Archer has always been very active in the event, forgoing mailed invitations and personally calling up invitees who include existing customers as well as past representatives, retirees and friends of those invited. She also has joined other GTS employees in manning the front lines of the BBQ beef cookout. As a result, the product carnival is well attended.
“Audrey was and still is one of the best-known people in the plumbing and heating industry in Colorado. The customers have always loved and respected her,” said Gary T. Sanders.
Archer has always relished in the company’s growth and accomplishments, archiving mementos of progress over the years. She has always been one of the first to celebrate the company breaking sales barriers. This year everyone at GTS, including Archer, celebrated the opening of the new Greeley showroom in Colorado.
“We started out as just a teeny company — Gary, Norm, Mr. Sanders and a driver. When we first hit $29,000 in sales, we were elated. We added more employees, and the company just kept growing. I am very proud,” said Archer.
She continued, “Some companies get so big they lose that real connection to their customers. Even though we’ve grown we haven’t lost touch.”
Though GTS associates give Archer the title of “backbone” of the company, Archer has a few words of her own about those who have built up the company and made it what it is today.
“A company is only as good as the person who heads it. In my lifetime, this has turned out to be true,” said Archer. “Mr. Sanders, Gary and Norm have been wonderful for company growth.”
Management and the customers aren’t the only ones who gush with praise for Archer. Her co-workers, who have sat and eaten lunch with her, listened to her stories over the years, leaned on her and taken her advice, have quickly discovered she is someone to look up to.
Sue Harrison, who works in accounts payable and copper sales, is a key member of Archer’s work family. To Harrison, Archer has been more than someone she eats lunch with everyday; Archer has been a mentor.
“What a blessing for GTS. What a wealth of knowledge and experiences. Although I have known her for only 20-plus years, she has been a wonderful mentor to me,” said Harrison. “By her behavior in all situations and by her sheer determination to continue to represent this company, she exhibits an outstanding example of character for years all of us have tried to mimic.”
Others have followed her example too, noticing how age has yet to change her values and ways to make a difference each day.
“All I can say is that Audrey is an inspiration to all young people. She always has a positive attitude and is a pleasure to be around. She truly has defied the aging process,” said Claudia Lamfers.
Archer has also taken on a maternal role, nurturing not only the growth of the company, but her work family as well. She has been described as a person who people can turn to, who listens intently, will even “give you the shirt off her back.”
“When my first daughter was born I came up with a way of paying off the hospital bill by cutting and splitting firewood. When I told her about it not only did she buy a load but through her friends and her word-of-mouth I paid off the bill and made some extra,” said Mike Irvin, branch manager of the GTS Fort Collins branch.
And Gary T. Sanders' wife Beverly added, “Gary and I owe her a debt of gratitude. She is more than part of our business, she is our family, and we love her.”
Though Archer is not related to anyone at GTS, she embodies family business, which is mirrored back. She credits this culture for much of the company’s overall success.
“There is a natural give and take here. Management takes an active interest in the employees — not just their professional growth, but their lives and families,” said Archer. “In return, people have more faith and take more interest in the company as a whole.”
If you do the math, you’ll realize that Archer was well into her late 40s when she began working for GTS. Before that she made a living through a small donut-making business she owned with her husband of 40 years, Tony Archer. The business allowed Audrey to help fund her son’s education so that he could graduate from the University of Colorado and become a pharmacist.
Archer’s son passed away from multiple sclerosis at 38, leaving behind three children and a wife. Archer now has six grandchildren she’s very proud of, and she lives with her daughter-in-law.
Archer retired once, but decided it wasn’t for her — and Beverly Sanders asked her to come back. Archer comes to work two days a week now, but is still at the curb at 6:30 in the morning waiting for co-worker Sue Harrison to pick her up.
Archer says she has slowed down physically. She is losing her eyesight, which doesn’t seem to damper her positive mindset. Archer recalls her hobbies and loves of her life — travel, friends, family, church, gardening and reading.
So, I interviewed someone who turned 100 years old this month. For the most part she is a regular person with a typical amount of knowledge. What is unique about her, though, is that she is a regular person with an irregular attitude.
I probed her for secrets and philosophies on living that long. All she really said was she enjoys her life, accepts the kind of person she is, and loves people of all substance. She's the kind of person you don't know, would like to know, and have somehow known all along — all wrapped into one.
“I enjoy working. I always have,” said Archer. “If you like a job enough, it’s your life.”