When Larry “Allen” Powell met his wife, Jenny Rothenberger, their chemistry was immediate.
Allen was polite, but he complimented Jenny, telling her how beautiful she was. They had their first date at a Ruby Tuesday in Statesville.
“He was an awesome, awesome, man. I will never be able to find somebody else like him,” she said.
Allen, 49, of Lenoir, was threading materials through a machine at Sealed Air Corp. on Dec. 29 about 3:30 a.m. when he got sucked into the machine and was critically injured. He died a little after 10 p.m. Thursday.
His niece, Danielle Burfine, said Allen’s family feels broken by his death. She especially remembers his love for Jenny.
“The first time I met him, he told me how much he loved Jenny. I think he knew the moment he met her how much he wanted to spend his life with her,” Burfine said.
Jenny, for her part, said Allen was a kind, generous man who enjoyed competitive weightlifting and shopping at thrift stores.
“When all this COVID started, and Allen couldn’t do his competitions, it really, you know, like tore him. He was just saying how bad that he missed not being able to do his competitions,” Jenny said.
Jenny and Allen met in 2017, and in 2018 while the two were walking around a mall in Winston-Salem, he proposed. The proposal was casual, but meaningful, she said.
“He didn’t really get on one knee and say, ‘Will you marry me?’ He just asked me, and I said yes, and he bought the ring. We had to wait for the ring to get sized, and then it was sent up to Hickory, ... and then I picked it up there. I’ve had it ever since,” Jenny said. “He wasn’t a fancy type of person, he just … asked me if I wanted to marry him, and I said yes. That was about all.”
Allen was open about his love for Jenny — on Facebook, over the course of the last several years, he posted publicly about her.
“Happy birthday. May your day be as beautiful as you. May the next year bring you the best of health wealth and happiness,” he said in one post.
“Jenny Rothenberger You are my heart and my soul. You are the part of my life that makes me whole,” he said in another.
Jenny said she is furious at Sealed Air, and she doesn’t understand why the machine that killed Allen didn’t have a mechanism that allowed them to easily release him.
Instead, he was trapped there for more than 45 minutes, and it took 10 people to rescue him, Jenny said.
“So yeah, I mean, I think I have ever right to be aggravated. I think I have every right to be. Some people cry, some people get very angry when people die,” she said. “Because not only did I lose my best friend, his mom lost her son, his dad lost his son, you know. His cousin, you know, lost his cousin. You know, it’s just, it’s not fair. It’s not fair at all.”
Sealed Air would not answer questions about the incident. The company said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Sealed Air employee, Larry ‘Al’ Powell, who was injured at the Hudson, North Carolina plant on December 29. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends, including the many people he worked with here at Sealed Air. Our greatest priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our employees, and we are fully focused on supporting them during this difficult time.”
The company also has said that that it has offered counseling to employees and that it is cooperating with the N.C. Department of Labor’s investigation.
Jenny said that Allen was known by many in the community and will be deeply missed.
“He’s gonna be missed by many, many, many people. That man was well known. He would give you his last dime if that’s what you needed, and he would go without. He would give you his shirt off his back if that’s what you needed. I mean, he was a great, great guy,” she said. “Just remember Allen and the way Allen was. And a lot of people know how Allen was.”
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.