Missouri business leaders remember their summer jobs

AndreaEverybody has to start somewhere. Can you remember your first summer job?

Lifeguarding at a pool, working at a movie theater, serving as a little league umpire: Whatever it might have been, it was probably a transformative experience that taught you responsibility and the value of earning a paycheck. These Missouri business leaders reflect on their first summer jobs.

Robin Balke, IMCO
My first official summer job was detasseling corn. My mother was a shift leader, so everyone met at our house. We would load up in a couple of large vehicles and leave around six in the morning. We would walk the rows wearing plastic trash bags to keep from getting soaked by the morning dew dripping from the corn stalks. Each person was responsible for the two rows on either side of them.

Anytime we saw a tassel at the top of the stalk that was missed by the detasseling machine, we would bend the stalk over just far enough to pull the tassel out.
By afternoon, we were in bikini tops and shorts because the midday sun made for blistering heat, and the mud from trudging through the fields in the morning would be dried and caked on our shoes and legs. Because of the distance between the workers, I would only see the others when we would get to the end of the rows, and my mother would make sure everyone was accounted for. The days were long and hot, but it was well worth it when I received my weekly paychecks. That $2.30 minimum wage seemed like a lot of money back then.

Mary Jo Little, Carthage Chamber of Commerce

Mary Jo Little

Mary Jo Little

Although not my first job, my favorite summer job was working for the Poplar Bluff Habitat for Humanity office in 1998. I crafted their newsletter, researched fundraising opportunities, assisted their leadership and volunteers, and really got to see how another affiliate operated; I was interning with the Branson office during the semester.

I feel like nonprofit organizations and other philanthropic groups can really benefit from young workers, and I truly believe that young workers can gain invaluable knowledge and experience from serving.

Fran Kopsky, Pacific Area Chamber of Commerce
My first summer job, at age 16, was working in gifts and souvenirs at Six Flags Over Mid America in 1975. This job taught me about etiquette in the working world. I learned to be on time, dress appropriately, talk appropriately to the park guests and my superiors, keep the workplace clean, keep busy, and work a cash register.

I learned about dealing with coworkers and customers—all of which opened my eyes to the real world. The retail world gave me direction in life. I went to college, majored in marketing and retail, got a business degree, and then an MBA. Throughout college, I worked a retail job. Call me crazy, but I loved the action-packed world of retail. I experienced opening my own business, and now I’m the executive director of the Pacific Area Chamber of Commerce.

Greg Baker, Centurylink

Greg Baker

Greg Baker

Summers when I was 19 and 20, I worked at the Lake of the Ozarks. My main job was a “ticket hawker” for Casino Pier, selling lake cruises on our boats: the Commander, the Larry Don, and sea plane flights. The ticket booth was up the hill from the dock, on Business 54, just a few hundred feet from Bagnell Dam. I would stop tourists walking by, holler at cars, and talk to anyone who we could get to stop and listen to our sales pitch. Our only competitor, the Tom Sawyer, was next door. They, too, hired ticket hawkers to try to take sales off the street; sometimes this would start a bidding war between us.

Besides scenic lake tours, the Larry Don would host brunch and dinner cruises and, best of all, live rock ‘n’ roll bands for dance parties every Friday and Saturday night.
Sometimes, I worked on the boats during a cruise. Most of that time was spent telling stories about the lake to the tourists. There are a lot of stories from those days, like watching the helicopter from the Tom Sawyer crash into the lake just yards from our dock.

Besides daily living expenses, I spent my earnings on beer to take on the dance cruises. What I managed to save was spent on my college courses and living expenses that fall.

Karlton Thornton, Ameren Missouri

Karlton Thornton

Karlton Thornton

One of my summer jobs was washing cars at Jack Schmitt Car Wash in Hazelwood; it paid well, and tips were plentiful.

The Ford plant was just across the street, and on Fridays, the employees would be lined up to have their cars looking their best for the weekend. Most of my tips went to buying albums at Peaches Records and instruments, drum sticks, and guitar strings from Dale’s Music, also in Hazelwood.

Victor Modeer, URS Corporation
My father was the business manager at the St. Joseph News-Press. Using that connection, I was able to help two of my friends and myself to get summer jobs. They worked in office environments, and my father gave me a janitorial job.

In the 1970s, a newspaper was a 24-hour operation. I couldn’t clean toilets, sweep floors, and empty trash cans in a private, after hours, atmosphere. It was humbling to say the least.

I answered to my fellow full-time janitors. I had to prove I could clean a toilet and sweep a floor to their satisfaction. I completed my tasks in a bitter cloud.

During that summer, I slowly began to change my attitude. I saw that the office employees, my customers, were pleased with clean toilets and swept floors. I really began to take pride in my work. I realized that good customer service was noticed and appreciated.

We all have stories like this. As my company and I work to gain customer approval and loyalty, our excellent work is our best sales technique. I carry the lessons of that first job with me, but I still wish I didn’t learn them cleaning toilets.

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