Retiree Spotlight

Meet Les Gaffner

Les Gaffner

While studying chemical engineering at Northwestern University, Monsanto retiree Les Gaffer, worked at the company's Nitro, WV, plant during his junior and senior years. For Les, the love of learning has never ended!

Les started working full time as a Technical Services Department Engineer in June of 1964 at the Queeny plant, where Monsanto began manufacturing Saccharin in 1901. The plant was named after the company's founder, John F. Queeny.

Back then, engineers' duties were to work with the people from Manufacturing, Research and Sales and Marketing to improve capacity, reduce costs, improve quality, solve safety problems, and the like. Les recalled, "I joined Monsanto because when I had worked at the Nitro plant during my junior and senior years at Northwestern U., I liked the work and the people I worked with. It was also relatively close to Greenville, IL, where I had grown up and where my family still lived."

When Les retired some 31 years later, he was working at Monsanto's Corporate Headquarters in St. Louis, MO, in the Corporate Distribution Department. When he retired, he was managing the distribution of Monsanto's products throughout the world.

"The time I spent with Monsanto gave me a chance to make meaningful contributions to an organization that was making meaningful contributions to the country and to the world," he said. "It gave me a chance to learn and grow as an individual by expanding my responsibilities, and it gave me the chance to earn a good living for myself and my family so that in my retirement I could give something back to the community," he added.

One of Les' favorite memories involved working as a distribution manager in Saflex, which used a team approach to managing the business. "This approach allowed me to make significant contributions to the business well beyond the traditional role of a distribution manager," Les said.

Learning has been the theme that has run through Les' career at Monsanto, and it's a theme that continues to carry through his life since retirement. Les is involved in the Lifelong Learning program at Washington University, among other things.

"I found out about Lifelong Learning in the typical sort of way," recalled Les. "I was working as a volunteer answering phones for our local National Public Radio affiliate, KWMU, during a fund drive about 6 years ago. At the end of our telephone answering session the person next to me said he had to go off to class. I asked him where he was going and he told me about Lifelong Learning at Washington U," said Les.

This was just what he had been looking for, for several years -- a way to keep his brain stimulated by learning about new subjects and at a reasonable cost. Les told us that Lifelong Learning programs are available in colleges, universities and communities around the country.

Les noted, "As an engineer, I had few opportunities to study the liberal arts. At the Lifelong Learning Institute I have studied U.S. and World History and Geography, Economics, Literature and of course, some areas of human sciences like the brain, microorganisms, etc." Besides taking classes, Les serves on the Steering Committee of that group and is Chairman of the Membership Committee.

For more information about Lifelong Learning programs, visit the Elderhostel Institute Network at or call 1-800-454-5768. You can also visit the Washington University website for more details about its program or call WU at 314-935-4237. If you'd like to contact Les directly about the program, his email is

Even though Les says he is retired, he really hasn't stopped "working!" Les owns a real estate investment business and owns and manages a portfolio of 60-70 rental properties in the St. Louis area. Les spends his time managing his business and investment portfolio, and volunteering at KWMU, where he is a member of the radio affiliate's Friends Board and its Executive Committee.

"What I like most about being retired is being in a position to manage my own time and do the things that I enjoy doing, like talking with my residents and potential customers," said Les.

He and his wife, Gini, also like to travel and spend 8-10 weeks a year doing that. They have a trip to Puerto Vallarta coming up in February with their two sons, one daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. "Spending time with my family is very important," said Les. "When time permits I love to read and fly fish."

Les says he can't really say there is anything he doesn't like about being retired. "I enjoyed working for Monsanto when I was there and felt like I made valuable contributions, but I haven't missed it yet!"

Click here to see Les Gaffner's photo gallery.

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