Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jobs that are no more

When Mercury staff writer Caroline Sweeney started work on the series, "Jobs I never had," tackling summer jobs she had never tried, we started talking in the newsroom about the summer jobs that no longer exist.
As it turns out, none of the summer jobs I worked are an option these days. 
Back in the '70s, the region's factories provided the most lucrative employment. I worked for a time at the former Kooly Kupps plant outside Boyertown as a Styrofoam cup inspector. The job involved white cups going by on a conveyor belt with a light shining from below. If the light was visible through a spot in the cup, we discarded that cup.
By the end of a shift, we were covered in white Styrofoam and surrounded by damaged cups.
My second factory job was at the former Gudebrod plant, the one on Old Reading Pike near Flagg's. I worked third shift on a thread spooling machine, paid by the number of spools produced in a shift.
The musty building was hot, even from11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and I walked non-stop from one end of the spooling machine to the other packing spools of various colored threads as they came off the machine.
Neither of those jobs, nor those buildings exist. Thread isn't spooled and Kooly Kupps aren't manufactured around here anymore.
But my best summer job that no longer exists was selling Wonder Ware, the cookware designed to make great cooks out of unsuspecting young people as they graduated from high school or college.
"We're visiting ALL the girls ..." was the first line of our sales pitch.  In other words, if you didn't have an eager college student pitching pots and pans in your living room, well, you just weren't part of the crowd.
I worked for American Future Systems, lugging pans in a faded blue suitcase in and out of houses in the Pottstown area. We prospected sales leads through high school yearbooks and then worked referrals from one girl to the next.
The competition was tough: If another company's salesperson got to a school population first, I had no chance. I made a few sales in Pottstown and Owen J. Roberts, but I hit roadblocks with households already visited. Then I started in Phoenixville, where I quickly learned I was the first salesperson in town.
For July and the first half of August, I schlepped up and down the North Side, the East End and what is now the business district, giving my pitch and selling pans.
I learned how to cold-call, how to talk my way inside the door of a house, how to overcome objections and how to close a sale.
I delicately stood on pans to prove their durability and aptly explained the heat conduction advantages of three-layered copper, stainless steel construction.
I navigated the slumps and peaks salespeople come to know, and I kept going through nights when the car overheated and days when I would rather have gone to the beach than pound the pavement.
As it turns out, I'm pretty good at sales. I made more than $3,000 in six weeks, a small fortune in 1975 dollars; won a sales-incentive bonus of a weeklong trip to Bermuda, and even got a plaque as the fourth salesperson in the company.
I was the top sales rep in the Philadelphia region.
That's a job that is no more. No one is selling teens $330 sets of cookware for their future.
Caroline's "jobs she never had" won't include Kooly Kupp inspector, third-shift spooler or cookware sales. That's a shame.  There were lessons in those three endeavors that have served me well.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don Seeley remembered: Our eulogy

Eulogy offered at funeral for former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley, July 1, 2013: 

I would like to thank Don’s family for inviting us at The Mercury to have a voice here. We know the difficulties of being the wife and children of a newspaperman. We’re honored you asked us to share in this tribute to his life.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a podium with Don at the 2007 Pottstown Relay for Life. We were the speakers for the luminaria ceremony. Relay was giving an award to The Mercury that year for our support. Don was supposed to say a few words introducing me, and I was supposed to say a few words in acceptance.
But when Don started to speak, he went vintage Don Seeley. He made an amazing speech about the newsroom’s support during his battle with cancer, and he ended with the stadium crowd hushed and me in tears.
As I tried to collect myself, I said to him, “You are certainly a tough act to follow.”
That’s how I feel today. 
If Don were speaking here, he’d have this crowd in the palm of his hand. He’d make you laugh. He’d make you cry. He’d inspire you and have you believe that you can beat cancer, that student-athletes are our future salvation and that sports is a game of dreams and miracles.
As great a speaker as he was, Don was an even better writer. He covered sports with an obsession for stats and accuracy, an eye for personality and an intuitive ability to discover the inspiration inside the story.
In a Mercury story about Don's passing last week, Gary DeRenzo said, “Don always found the silver lining and celebrated it.”
His longtime friend Mickey McDaniel said, “The guy had an impact I don’t think he ever really knew or understood.”
Don was always a little incredulous at the reaction to his stories. 
He fussed and fretted a lot when he was writing a story about someone. He took this craft so seriously, and he worried about failing the young athletes he wrote about.
A few years ago, when Pottsgrove football standout Terrell Chestnut was being recruited by Division I schools, Don interviewed him for a feature about the hardships Chestnut overcame.  He said it was such a great story he was afraid he wouldn’t do it justice.
He was the same way last December when Pottstown native Navy Seals Commander Job Price died. Don worried he wouldn’t adequately convey the character and courage of Price’s life.
In his retirement column a few months ago, he was worried he would forget to mention someone. Well, I edited that column and there were so many names in it, I don’t think he forgot anybody. 
Don was also, as you all know, quite the comedian. He would hold court in the newsroom, at social gatherings at Brookside Restaurant or the Elks, on the golf course or the sidelines of a game – telling stories, some of them appropriate and some of them not.
When he went missing sometimes at work, we would find him downstairs entertaining the first floor, or outside in the alley, Wawa coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, everyone around him laughing at something outrageous he had said.
In closing, I have just one anecdote I would like to share.
Don stopped in the newsroom a few weeks ago for a visit, and he noticed our summer intern sitting at his desk.  You can imagine the Papa Bear routine that followed:  “Young lady – do you know where you’re sitting?”
He then introduced himself, asked her where she went to school and if she was majoring in journalism.
I expected to then hear from across the room a diatribe about long hours, low pay, things not being what they used to be and the erosion of print. 
Instead, this is what I heard:
“Great career choice. 
"I just retired after 37 years in this business and I loved every day. I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. Journalism is great work, and it’s been good to me. Good luck to you.”
He had that backward. It’s not that journalism was good to Don Seeley; Don Seeley was good to journalism.
When Don retired, we said the newsroom would never be the same. I have a feeling that after today, heaven will never be the same either.
Don was truly one of a kind.   
And we were truly blessed that he was one of us.