The first night that Othea Loggan reported for work at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Chicago, "The Outer Limits" was on TV and the No. 1 song was "She Loves You" by the Beatles.
It was March 30, 1964. He was busboy, 18 years old and happy to be free of Mississippi, where he had grown up poor, one of 10 kids.
Fast-forward 54 years. Loggan, 72, is still a busboy — although the term is now "busser" — at the pancake house. He never left, never graduated to serving tables, never became a cook. He says he never asked to do anything else.
"He could retire now," said Javon Chambers, his grandson. "He's financially straight and everything. I just think he knows when people retire, they die. That's what he's said: Old people don't have nothing to do, they see their friends retire, and then they retire, and that's when they die of boredom too. It's like people who are married a long time — if one dies, the next goes right after. That's like my grandfather and this place. He doesn't want the will inside him to dry up."
Other than holding the same foot-in-the-door job an unusual number of years, Loggan has not led an unusual life. Those who work alongside him can't tell you much about him. There's no mystery, co-workers say, only a guy who doesn't like to talk about himself.
Ray Walker, who has owned the eatery since 1974, calls Loggan a friend and a "great man" — he sang Loggan's praises for an hour — but he has never met Loggan's wife, Claudia, and couldn't tell you much beyond the basics. He's not alone. When asked about Loggan by his first name — pronounced "O-tha" — his co-workers often struggled to recognize it. They know him only as Loggan.
Always there, never late, good at his job. The bedrock of the operation.
Loggan chafes at a lot of this. He's rankled at the idea anyone could do any job for so long without a complaint or regret. "Back in the day, my son was young, I didn't want to work weekends, I wanted to spend time with him. But I had to work. Now I don't work weekends, and he's older."
He lets that settle in.
He sits huddled in a booth, silent, then blurts: "Why do you want to ask about my working here? I come to work, who cares?"
Of course, he's fielded the same questions many times. Asked why he never asked for a promotion, Loggan doesn't seem to register the question. Eventually people stop asking.
He has a long face and heavy, unassuming eyes that scan the room even as he talks to you — he doesn't like being unaware of what is happening. When he finally speaks, the words come in a fragmented, tumbling rush, as if he needs to say everything fast so he can get back to work.
He grew up in Greenville, in the Mississippi Delta. It was known for cotton plantations, tugboat manufacturing, profound poverty and illiteracy, both ingrained and enforced.
"I saw stuff there that made you feel like you had gone back in time," Loggan said. "There was no money." As recently as a decade ago, according to literacy surveys, as many as 25 percent of Greenville adults were considered illiterate.
Loggan said he never really knew his father, but his mother, who died in 2000, was the chef in a Greenville soul food restaurant for 40 years.
"She would cook breakfast, lunch, then have food ready for staff on their breaks — she was dependable, and she liked her job, and she would tell me that I would have to get along with people. I'm a lot like my mother."
With such a big family, "She could only help so much, and I stopped my learning early and came to Chicago." He moved in with a sister. His brother-in-law was the chef at the pancake house and helped him get hired. The starting salary was $1.15 an hour, the federal minimum wage, but enough, he recalls now, to save up and buy a small house, if you got lucky.
Walker said he's asked Loggan about advancing but "Loggan doesn't want anything else — he's said he's fine where he is. I think he views this as a place where he knows people, he's safe and comfortable." As for pursuing material things, he added: "I would doubt Loggan really ever dreamed about buying a Cadillac."
Loggan finally offered his own explanation for his unusual tenure: "It's as simple as this — people treat you well, you don't mind coming to work. Ray is a good man."
Employee benefits are rare in restaurants. Walker admitted that he treats Loggan a little better than the rest of the staff, but hesitated to go into detail: "Others would want to know what they're not getting." But it's common knowledge that Walker took out a life insurance policy on Loggan (payable to his wife) and that for years he has been putting money into an informal retirement fund for him.
Jose Antonio Chambers, Loggan's son, a Chicago police officer, said, "My father is old school — never complains about nothing, never. My mother too. There were times it was hard to get food on the table, and they did not complain." He said his father was great with numbers, that "if he hadn't grown up in the South at that time, if opportunities had been there, he might have done something else. But he got this job, he did it well, held on to it, and there needs to be a lot of respect for someone like that."