That was more than 31 years ago. Since then Dunnivant has sold or serviced eutectic plates from Canada to South America, and from Europe to Australia. The company is even in the early stages of doing business with China.
Heady stuff for a boy who was born and raised in Marshall County.
Dunnivant retired last week, relinquishing his duties as purchasing and sales manager at Dole. His fellow employees hosted a farewell lunch in his honor, complete with a cake that bore the likeness of a fish and a line about how he'd finally have the time now to actually do a little fishing.
Exactly how much fishing Dunnivant manages to get in remains to be seen, though. His wife, Ann, has been updating her honey-do list for weeks in preparation for the big change.
Dunnivant has actually been going to work at the same Higgs Street address even longer than his career with Dole would indicate. He started working for Wickes Furniture in the same facility back in 1972. After that firm shut down production here in 1974, Dunnivant was considering his employment options when former city manager Erby Massey convinced him to cast his lot with Dole, which eventually moved into the old Wickes plant.
"I've actually been working right here in this same building 37 years," Dunnivant said, marveling at how quickly the years went by. "I don't guess you find that too much today. But back when I was coming into the workforce, you wanted to get on with a good company that you could stay with.
"After Wickes shut down, I was looking for a company I could stay with more than four or five years. Back then I really couldn't see any farther down the road than that."
Dole has been able to weather the good economic times and the bad, Dole believes, because the company offers a solid product that is both unique and effective. Eutectic plates operate pretty much the same today as they did when they were first introduced back around 1927.
Eutectic plates have a hollow core filled with a special solution that can be frozen and which then thaws slowly over the next 10 or 12 hours. Eutectic plates offer customers a relatively cheap and reliable way to ship and store products that must be kept at below room temperature.
The company also manufactures fiberglass products for wastewater treatment plants.
"We service mostly giant industrial freezers, like the kind used in the food industry," said John Cook, owner and president of Dole. "We have a global market, I guess that's the word they use these days. Bobby handles customers literally all over the world -- Mexico, South America, China, Russia … you name it, just about."
Cook added that Dunnivant will be sorely missed.
"Bobby is a self-confident person. He's self-educated … sort of a jack-of-all-trades," Cook said. "He's the type of individual that you can turn a project over to him and you don't have to worry about is it going to get done right. I travel a lot and I depend on Bobby to handle things when I'm gone. He's also very good with the customer, he knows how to talk to them.
"He's going to be a hard man to replace."