Prompted

Fall 2017

Prompt: Tell us about a job you’ve had, either while at Grinnell or afterward.

In 1960, the early bird was first in line for breakfast at Main. My roommate Ellen Weitz DeNelsky ’62 and I were always those early birds. We were up every morning at 5 a.m. (including Sundays), faithfully delivering The Des Moines Register to all subscribers on South campus. That was before technology disseminated the national news; and to be informed, people actually read the newspaper. There were a significant number of subscribers and thus, very heavy loads for two “little” girls.

Ellen took all floors in all dorms from Haines to Loose, and I did the same for James to Main. We got a complete workout, up and down stairs toting papers all before breakfast. Only once did I wimp out, and dear Ellen did the whole route by herself. We certainly learned self-discipline and to be self-starters, while earning some money toward books and an occasional splurge at the student union.

I did other student work over my mid-1950s’ college years, but my best job was all-night switchboard operator for the campus telephone service.

Located above the heating plant, the switchboard served as a communications hub. Using brightly colored cords, I connected dorms, offices, and the outside world, responding to incoming calls with the same descriptive greeting: “College Central.”

Women operated the switchboard by day, men at night. There were three night-shift guys; we rotated, reporting for work every third night — in at 10 p.m., out at 7 a.m. At 11 p.m., the switchboard closed to the usual telephone contacts; however, it remained open for emergencies. Learning how to handle the 3 a.m. requests taught me how to be at the ready for others. Words from an ancient Welsh folk song kept me company throughout each night: “The moon her watch is keeping.” I, too, kept watch. 

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”

Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.

“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.

“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.

"Do what you love, not what makes you money.” Although true in the long run, it’s often very hard to do what you love without making money first. Also, lack of money can inhibit other non-career goals, like having kids. If you try to pursue what you love right off the bat, there’s a good chance that in order to survive you end up doing something you hate AND being poor."

I was a “secretaries’ assistant” back before secretaries were administrative professionals in Steiner, and Helyn Wohlwend was my boss, before she was a Writing Lab instructor. One day she asked me to call in an order of supplies or something, and I had never done that before and wasn’t sure how to go about it. Helyn told me, “Sara, everybody is faking it. No one knows exactly what they are doing. No one got a manual that you didn’t.” That has always stuck with me. Everyone is just making life up as they go along. It makes me feel better when I get overwhelmed and think I should have all the answers.

My grandfather when I was 5: “You won’t like everyone, and everyone won’t like you. And that’s OK.” 

“Not all of the advice you’ll receive should be listened to.”

 

I was moaning about studying for my Russian final and my high school principal, Dr. Bill Youngblood, a wise and good man, told me simply, “Hate it later.” 

It was crystallizing, and since then I’ve gone back to those three words more times than I can count. Someday I’m going to needlepoint them onto a pillow.