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Worrell retires after 18 years at Al-Corn

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 02/13/2013 7:52 AM

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CLAREMONT, Minn. — The first full-time employee hired by Al-Corn Clean Fuel retired last week.

Margaret Worrell was hired in October 1995 by the organizers of the farmer ethanol cooperative. Her last day was Jan. 25.

Worrell recalls asking the gentlemen who interviewed her what they expected of her. They turned the question around and asked her what she could do for the fledgling cooperative. She said she'd set up a general ledger, take care of accounts payable and accounts receivable and set up payroll.

Brad Ahrens of Owatonna, one of the people who interviewed Worrell, chuckled at the memory of that interview. The ethanol industry was young and they didn't know which way it would go, he said. They were asking Worrell to leave the banking industry, where she'd worked off-and-on for 23 years, to come aboard a new cooperative in a new industry.

"That was the best decision I ever made," Worrell said of her decision to come to work at Al-Corn.

Worrell previously worked for Claremont bankers Stub Harmer, Allen Buss and Bruce Buss and Allen's brother, Don, in an Owatonna bank.

She was working for Randy Schwake at Security State Bank of Claremont when Schwake and Roger Johnson launched the equity drive to build an ethanol plant outside of Claremont. Johnson was executive director of the ASCS in Dodge County.

She got involved in the effort to raise $9.25 million in seed money from investors. Supporters were asked to pledge a nickel for every share as seed money. It was a way to gauge interest in the project, Worrell said.

"I remember the day we made $9.25 million," Worrell said.

She and another woman from the bank went to Dick Harmer's field and brought corn and stalks to the bar to toast the accomplishment with others from the community. The other $9.5 million was borrowed from CoBank of Omaha.

When Worrell started working for Al-Corn, she was located in the bank basement, which was cold and damp. Next, she and plant manager Randall Doyal, from New Mexico, moved out to the plant, which was under construction. There was no running water and no toilets and it was the middle of winter. She remembers having her own porta potty, which the guys enclosed and put a heater in just for her.

It was a brutal winter, she said, and the construction crew worked out in the open. She shivered just thinking back.

Worrell retired as the company's controller, taking care of all the accounts, payroll and benefits as well. Doing payroll was her favorite part of the job, followed by working with the employees on their benefit plans.

She missed very few payrolls. Her boss was always good about letting her take time off for family commitments. Her co-workers became an extended family.

It's a small workforce, Ahrens said, and they are a close-knit bunch. Several employees hired when the plant started grinding in April 1996 are still there.

It's going to be weird seeing someone else in Worrell's office, he said. It's her office.

Worrell is retiring to spend more time with her 7-year-old granddaughter. She hopes to volunteer at her school and is ready to give up the commute from Owatonna, where she and her husband, Butch, moved 12 years ago. Butch died in March. She also hopes to find a part-time job in Owatonna.

Worrell will also have more time to spend with the other family members. She has two grandsons in Florida and three grown children.