Commentary: Summer Employment

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When I was in college I, like so many other college students, was hired for summer employment by the local steel industry.

I remember that my father was happy about me being gainfully employed even though the job was summertime only. But my dad, who spent a lifetime in the mills, wanted his son to be in a college classroom and not grinding flaws out of metal tubes or smelling the unforgettable odor of pickling metal at 6 o’clock every morning.

The reality was that Dad was proud of the life that he spent in local mills that enabled him to feed and clothe his family. But he wanted his sons to be educated and not face the dangers inherent in many mill jobs. Both of my parents supported my older brother Jerry’s art school education in Pittsburgh and eventually my first year of college at Youngstown University.

Thanks to a National Defense Act loan, the rest of my college years were covered through this wonderful government loan program promoted by the Eisenhower administration.

Dad’s worries were over when my final check from the steel company arrived. But he would have expressed grave concern when two near accidents happened near me in the mill.

I was working as a millwright’s helper. He asked me to stand away from the pumping station that pumped used acid into trucks. The millwright went down into the pit to begin emptying it after asking me to stand clear of the large hose that would carry the acid to the waiting truck.

The only problem was that the pump started before it was supposed to. The acid quickly passed through the large hose before a truck was there to accept it. The hose unraveled, sending acid from the storage tank and would have hit me were it not for me walking away from the pump station for some unknown reason.

In a shaky voice, the millwright shouted for me and was grateful that I had not been injured or worse.

On another day, two of us were changing the filters beneath one of the oil tanks of the machines. All of a sudden, a load of metal fell from an overhead crane and would have hit us were it not for the fact that the metal pieces were large enough to not fit through the hole above our heads.

But most days in the mill were without incident. And Dad was thrilled beyond words that we would be enrolling in college that coming fall.

I was fortunate to have summer jobs through my college years, mostly working the counter at my brother-in-law Albert’s auto parts store. I remember being paid $1 per hour, mostly for selling parts to nearby mechanics who had their quirks.

In those days, the major auto part seemed to be the universal muffler. One day we were filled with dread as a shipload of mufflers arrived to be stacked in the rear of the store. My back hurt for a week after unloading dozens of mufflers.

Regardless, it was a great experience working with the public and with mechanics who could take a car apart and put it back together.

My first job out of college was teaching elementary art in the Sharon schools. My father answered the phone when its superintendent called to offer me a job. I’ll never forget that look of pride on Dad’s face when the superintendent, Mr. Marks, told him that he was calling to offer me a teaching job that paid a mere few thousand dollars. When I mentioned to Dad the amount of the offer he said, “Don’t worry about that – you’re now a teacher affecting the lives of children. It’s not about money, it’s about sharing what you now know with young people. Is there a greater calling? I don’t think so.”

There was no need to feel that working with your hands is not a good thing. Not only did my father work in the mill, he worked as a barber in his free time. He was proud to have worked as both.

I join so many of you who feel as I do about your fathers. I always felt that his favorite job was neither in the mill nor in the barbershop. Clearly his favorite job was being a dad. At that he was a champion and of which I, and my siblings, will always be proudest.

And one last remembered comment about my dad. He often shared with me the idea that all that we can do is our very best. No one or nothing is perfect.

Under the topic of nobody being perfect, I just learned a startling truth: on the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is a reference to Pensylvania. You read that right. Someone misspelled the commonwealth by using only two n’s.