Chuck Brooks: Early professional advice to build on
I received a valuable piece of advice years ago from Nan Dougherty, my advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She told our class of aspiring teachers that to get a foot in the door of our first school, tell 'em what they want to hear during the interview. She was primarily talking about co-curriculars. "If they need a football coach and you don't know a stitch about the sport, tell 'em you've coached before and then, all summer, do what you have to do to learn what it takes to be a good coach!" she said. Little did she know, I already had done that when I was 18.
After high school, while all my other friends were talking college, my mother was gently telling me if I planned on staying at home, I'd have to find a job. I wouldn't have to pay rent, but she expected me to get a full-time job. Work was no stranger to me by that point. I had worked several jobs since I was 15. However, to find a full-time job meant more effort on my part.
It happened that a brand new grocery store was preparing to open its doors that summer on the west side of town. It was called Orv and Wally's United Foods. I had already worked at a grocery store in my short life. Granted, only as a carryout boy and stock person. I figured this new store may need a full-time guy to do those jobs, so I applied. I don't remember the interview much, but I assume it was Wally who interviewed me. Orv primarily focused on the meat department. He had spent his life as a butcher in previous stores before going into partnership with Wally. He did little outside the meat department on a daily basis. Wally mostly oversaw the rest of the store.
They needed a frozen food and dairy manager. Wally asked me if I had had any experience in that area. I hadn't but I had great faith in my ability to be what he needed, so I said "Yes." Remember now. I was 18. My brain was still in the process of taking shape. I really couldn't be held responsible for being stupid. Was I terrified? Uhhh...yea.
I was hired. And fear followed. Yikes! What does a frozen food and dairy manager do? One more detail I should share with you. This store was a family store. By that I mean both
owners had their wives working as checkout clerks. And both owners had their kids working in the store. Orv's sons worked in his meat department with him, and his daughter was a checkout clerk. Wally had one son who was a store manager and another boy who would eventually work for me in my departments. At least one daughter was also a checkout clerk.
I believe they opened only weeks after I graduated. When fall arrived, my friends from school were taking off to begin their adventures in college while I was busy ordering milk and ice cream and trying to learn as I went along. We weren't the only grocery store in Beaver Dam, but for a while, you'd think we were. We were an instant success. When a new store opens, people have to check it out, and I remember the "Grand Opening" ad we had in the paper had nice sale prices.
I worked there three and a half years, happily, before deciding I needed to go for more in my life and headed to college in January of 1978. I have no regrets. I learned a lot about life and how to deal with people through that job, and I made great friendships that would last over my lifetime.
When I interviewed at Rosemount High School, I took Nan's advice to heart. I lied again. I was asked if I had any experience with tech theater. In short, could I build a set for a show? I actually had been in shows, and I had directed several children's theater productions in my hometown, but I barely knew the difference between a hammer and a screwdriver. However, I said, "Oh, yes." And voila, my foot was in the door! I was then up to me to prove myself a valuable asset to the faculty despite the fact I could no more create a set for a show than I could rebuild the engine of a car.
Did my "little fib" catch up with me? Uhhh...yea. Before school began, I found myself sitting with the director and the choreographer of the fall show, "Guys and Dolls," in what was then the teachers' smoking lounge. They both greeted me with lit cigarettes in hand. As they unrolled the blueprints of what it was I was to build, I seriously thought I should maybe take up smoking real soon. The entire show was to be primarily scaffolding. I can remember thinking, What's scaffolding?
Ladies and gentlemen, don't hate me, but...to be continued!