Agra native celebrates 50 years in business at the same hometown snack bar
AGRA, Okla. -- 1956 -- the year that Elvis Presley’s first single hit the music charts and President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized adding “under God” to the “Pledge of Allegiance” – was also the year that Dale McFarlin opened his snack bar business on Main Street in Agra, Oklahoma.
A native of the small central Oklahoma town, 30-year old McFarlin returned home with his wife Helen and young son Jim, preferring the simplicity of small town life to the faster pace in Enid where they had previously lived.
“I just always kind of liked a small town – the atmosphere and all,” McFarlin said standing in his usual position at the snack bar counter. “Things are just a little bit simpler in a small town seemed to me like.”
Dale McFarlin liked Agra so well that he stayed in business in the same white, clapboard store in the same town for the last 50 years. The townspeople who can’t imagine life without him assume that’s a record.
“When I went in, I thought it was going to be permanent or I wouldn’t have went in,” he explained with a laugh.
Looks like McFarlin was right.
A 1945 graduate of the Oklahoma School for the Blind, he was licensed to operate a food service business in 1963 through the Business Enterprise Program operated by Visual Services in the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). The employment program trains and licenses business operators with vision impairments under the federal Randolph Sheppard Act.
In addition to receiving start-up assistance and health and retirement benefits, the independent business owners in the program become taxpayers, reducing their need for disability benefits and social services.
Later McFarlin built on a small room in back of the original stand with bench seats and air conditioning and a heater, as well as a microwave for the occasional snack size pizza.
At a time when many are content to rest, the 80-year old McFarlin still puts in six or seven hours Monday through Friday. He walks three blocks to work, arriving around 9:00 a.m. After the lunch rush, he walks home for a noon meal and rests a bit before returning to the snack bar in time for the after school rush. On Saturdays, he works about half the day.
So far, he has served three generations of neighbors out the front window, but it’s not the profit that brings him to the little snack bar. It’s the kids from the nearby elementary and high schools, who are still his best customers.
“I like kids,” McFarlin said, while waiting for the lunch bell to signal his next rush. “You can deal with kids if you try. You can do more with them by trying to get along with them, talking and being nice to them than by being demanding, you know. They’re always helpful when I need something.”
“He’s a cool guy – a good friend – always wondering how you’re doing in school,” eighth-grader Kyle Grimm, Jr., said. “He’s been real good to us. During the winter, it’s nice and warm in here. You don’t have to buy anything if you can’t. We just sit and talk. Besides, who wants to stay at school when you got a break?”
The gradual increase in prices is “really the big difference” Dale McFarlin has noticed over the past 50 years.
“Pop was still a nickel back when I started. Sometimes the kids today say, ‘I sure wish pop was still a nickel.’ I tell them, ‘Well, you’d have to mow a lawn for a quarter. To get pop for a nickel that’s what you’d have to do.’ Course nobody wants to do that anymore.”
The community of Agra, state Department of Rehabilitation Services and family and friends will honor Dale McFarlin for 50 years of service at a celebration starting at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19. The celebration will take place at the Senior Citizens Center, located at 1 S. Main in Agra.
Governor Brad Henry has issued a commendation for the occasion recognizing McFarlin with a special message, “Please accept my personal congratulations and best wishes for continued success.”
Immediate family expected to attend include Dale McFarlin’s son Jim; Jim’s wife Debbie; two grandchildren, Kimberly McFarlin and Kevin McFarlin; Kevin’s wife Tammy; and two great-grandchildren, Kevin’s children Emilie and Olivia, all of Edmond, OK. McFarlin’s wife of 58 years, Helen, died in December 2005.
At this point, Dale McFarlin, has no plans to retire.
“This kind of work keeps you in touch with the outside world because people come in and talk to you,” McFarlin said. “It just helps to pass the time.”
One in five work-age Oklahomans, approximately 361,145, has some type of disability, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Thirty-eight percent of this group is employed, compared to nearly 74 percent of the general population.
Recognizing the contributions of workers with disabilities, like Dale McFarlin, is the focus of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Governor Brad Henry proclaimed October as the official month for this recognition, stating that “assurance is needed that people with disabilities have the same avenues to services and employment options as everyone else.”
In Oklahoma, the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) helps individuals with disabilities face barriers to employment, such as inaccessible worksites, lack of transportation or specialized equipment, and employer reluctance. The agency also provides career counseling, training and other services that build skills and qualifications needed in the workforce.
For more information about the Business Enterprise Program or other employment opportunities for Oklahomans with disabilities, contact the Department of Rehabilitation Services at (800) 845-8476.