"We had great times and we had beautiful customers that came," Dot Sharp says of her decades at the location in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania
In 1978, Dot Sharp, a single mother of four, would visit the McDonald’s in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, where her two daughters worked at the time.
“I used to take them up and drop them off, and then I'd go up late at night and pick them up or on the weekend and pick them up to take them home,” the now 84-year-old tells PEOPLE. “And they said to me, ‘You're here so much. Why don't you just get a job here?’ And so I put in an application.”
On Jan. 12, 45 years after she began working there, Sharp had her final shift.
“I feel great," she says of retirement. “But it's so sad that I am leaving because I am not meeting with all my great customers and all the great people that I work with. But I will go and visit them often.”
Sharp had been employed in several restaurants and offices before starting at McDonald's, where she says it was easy to balance working and raising children.
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“I started at four o'clock in the morning all the time, and I was done around one, two o'clock in the afternoon,” she explains. “So I was home to take care of the kids, get them dinner and make sure they had their homework and everything done. So [McDonald’s] was a great place to work."
Sharp has held several roles throughout her nearly five decades working for the fast food giant, but it was her role as a drive-thru cashier that gave her immense joy.
“I loved the customers in their drive-thru,” she shares. “They used to sing to me. If they knew it was me on the speaker, they would sing to me. We had great times and we had beautiful customers that came.”
She has witnessed several McDonald's innovations firsthand — including the Happy Meal in 1979, McCafe drinks in 2001 and even the McPizza — and also has fond memories of bingo being held every Tuesday morning at the Gibsonia location for seniors, including former Pittsburgh Steelers player Fran Rogel.
"He would come in the door in the morning. Everybody would get up and clap, and they'd say, 'Hey, diddle diddle, Rogel up the middle,'" she says. "And he would run around the store and pretend like he was playing football, and he had us laughing the whole time he was there. It's memories like this that kept me there, and it was just happiness.”
On Jan. 12, Sharp was greeted for her last day of work with a surprise celebration that included a cake, balloons and flowers. "It was a total shock because I really didn't expect anything like that," she says, adding that she expected she'd just "clock out and go home."
"It was amazing what they did," she adds.
Sharp’s ties to McDonald’s will continue through her granddaughter, Dottie Sims, herself an employee at the restaurant since the age of 15.
“It's always been a work ethic,” Sims, now 35, says of her grandmother. “I honestly can't remember her ever being late to work ever, and always pressed and dressed. If I came in with a shirt that was wrinkled, I'd get yelled at."
Speaking with PEOPLE, Meghan Sweeney, the owner and operator of McDonald's Gibsonia location, also praised Sharp's dedication.
"One of my favorite memories of her is she would come and yell up the 'Move that line!' or 'Move that bus!' because [Extreme Makeover: Home Edition] was one of the popular television shows," she says. "When we wouldn't be moving the drive-thru, she would turn and yell up, ‘Move that bus!’ You had to have fun."
Sharp attributes her dedication to having "fun times" at work. "It was happiness," the 84-year-old says that kept her "coming back and coming back."
Sharp now says she plans to spend her retirement with her family. “I have a daughter that's retired and a son that's retired,” she says. “I think we're going to spend a little bit more time together and visit family that we haven't seen for a good while and get back together with the family.”
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