Fayette County

82-year-old McDonald’s custodian isn’t ready for retirement

Wendall Gill, 82, who seemed to never stop working or smiling, poses for a portrait at McDonald's on Richmond Rd., where Gill has worked for 38 years, in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, December 21, 2015.
Wendall Gill, 82, who seemed to never stop working or smiling, poses for a portrait at McDonald's on Richmond Rd., where Gill has worked for 38 years, in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, December 21, 2015. Herald-Leader

With a houseful of children, Wendall Gill said he knew Christmas was coming and his job on a horse farm wasn’t going to cut it.

“I had run short of money so I went out and got a part-time job,” he said.

He started working at McDonald’s at night.

That was 39 years ago, and Gill, 82, is still brightening customers’ days at the McDonald’s on Richmond Road.

He keeps the tables and floor clean and the trays put away, empties the garbage cans inside and outside, makes sure the drink and condiment station is well stocked, takes care of the bathrooms and picks up garbage from the parking lot.

He’s a neat man who keeps a neat restaurant.

“If he’s here, you know things are going to be right,” said Lori Vaught, supervisor of the Richmond Road McDonald’s, as well as two other locations that are part of the Graviss Restaurants group.

But that’s just one side of what Gill does.

“He’s so good at talking to all the customers,” Vaught said. “That’s probably why part of them come here.”

Gill, who works five days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., is known for his ready smile and twinkling blue eyes.

While he has done other jobs over the years, from fry cook to salad maker, owner Joe Graviss said Gill’s way with people makes him a particular asset to the dining room.

“He is a great ambassador,” said Graviss, who has known Gill since he was a 14-year-old and the two worked at the Versailles Road McDonald’s Graviss’ father, Bob Graviss, franchised. He operates McDonald’s restaurants in Lexington, Versailles and Frankfort.

In 2015, Gill was named one of the Sensational Seven, a group of outstanding employees named by the McDonald’s purchasing co-operative for this region.

Gill said he can’t go anywhere without running into someone he knows from the restaurant.

And Alice Taylor, first assistant manager, said he can’t take a day off without customers asking, “Where’s Wendall?”

Gill said he worked for 25 years at Mereworth Farm, caring for the colts and yearlings. He also spent time at Coldstream Farm and Walnut Hall, where he met his wife of 63 years, Della. Her father also worked there.

After he began working part-time at McDonald’s, Gill said, Bob Graviss really wanted him to come to work for him full time.

“He kept at me,” Gill said.

Finally, Gill said he’d leave the horses behind if he could get 60 hours a week at McDonald’s.

“I figured it might be a little easier,” he said. “I’d been drug around” by horses.

Housing for the family had always been provided on the farms and the Gills worried about finding a new place. They said Bob Graviss solved that by buying a house for them to rent.

In those early years, Gill worked at the Versailles Road location during the day and the Richmond Road store at night. He ate three meals a day at McDonald’s.

A trim man with snowy white hair, he said he hasn’t grown tired of eating there.

For breakfast, he said he has a bacon and egg biscuit made with the round egg that usually comes on an Egg McMuffin. For lunch, it’s almost always a McChicken sandwich.

Over the years, several members of Gill’s family, who know him as Pop, also have worked for Graviss Restaurants.

Della Gill worked at four locations off and on. Their daughter Debby is married to Graviss Restaurants’ director of operations, Jim Young, and does some administrative work for the company from home.

Their daughter Shelly Columbia and granddaughter Tabitha Columbia work with Gill at the Richmond Road location.

Gill himself keeps busy outside of work.

Now that their own children are grown, the Gills are providing care for two of their grandsons who have special needs. Gill takes grandson John swimming at the YMCA three nights a week after he gets off work, and then they go out for dinner, Della Gill said.

On Jan. 6, Gill will have a pacemaker put in, but he said he hopes to be back to work after about a week.

He has no plans to retire.

“I’d miss it,” he said. “I tell people, when you don’t see me up here, I can’t get up or I’m dead.”