Vermonters take stock of their job benefits
Across the country, working Americans celebrate Labor Day by... not laboring. Except, of course, those who have been laid off in this economic downturn -- including hundreds of Vermonters. The truth is, they'd rather be on the job. What does work mean to people? Seven Days interviewed 10 area workers and found that job satisfaction isn't just about the paycheck.
Sheila Kingsbury has been waiting tables since 1969, and at Henry's Diner in Burlington since 1984. Typically her days are pretty busy: She's in by seven in the morning and doesn't stop moving until after three, when her shift ends. "I love the work," says Kingsbury. "Every season you get a different group of people: college students, skiers, tourists." She admits her job is challenging when the place is packed, but "You just put one foot in front of the other, and everything works out," she suggests.
Of course, not every customer is a stranger. After almost 20 years, Kingsbury has gotten to know quite a few people -- some by face, others by name. And diners recognize her. "I've had customers say, "It's so nice to come in, even after years away from Vermont, and find you here,' and I say, "It's nice to see a familiar face.'"
Is there something she'd rather be doing? Kingsbury thinks for a moment before answering, "I just love my job. I wouldn't want to do anything else."
Paul Donovan has been working at the main branch of the State Department of Libraries in Montpelier since 1976. In 1983 he became a Law Librarian. Although many of the people who come to the library are, not surprisingly, lawyers, Donovan fields questions from lay folk, and other libraries, on every subject imaginable.
"It's something like an intellectual candy store here," he says. "I get to scout information, so I can wade into history, philosophy, law, ecology, antiques, writing -- all that stuff. It's always different."
The job has changed somewhat over the years with the advent of online technologies, but being a librarian is still about the people. "You have folks who come in occasionally who have been wronged and are searching for legal solutions," Donovan says. "It calls for a bunch of skills. You do a lot of counseling in this job."
Does he feel he makes a difference? Donovan gives an enthusiastic yes. "But a lot of it is peripheral," he notes. "When you're sick, you go to the doctor. If the doctor doesn't know what's wrong, he goes to a specialist. If the specialist doesn't know, he goes to his librarian. If he's smart."
Anything else he'd rather be doing? "If I had all the time and education? I wouldn't mind getting into particle physics, or maybe extragalactic astronomy," Donovan muses. "I'm just fascinated by that stuff."
Tire Store Manager
"A typical day is hectic, incredibly busy, but I love it. I'm a workaholic," says Patricia Eastman, who has been collecting keys and getting tires changed with Goss Tire Company in Williston for nearly 27 years. "Every day has its ups and downs, but I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have good people you work with."
Eastman says that sometimes the stress is "mind-boggling -- especially the winter and spring rushes, when everyone is hurrying to change the tires on their cars."
A mechanic's shop seems like a man's world, but Eastman says being a woman has helped. "A lot of women take care of their vehicles now, and [having a woman manager] makes them feel more comfortable," she explains. "I have people of both sexes who call and want to talk specifically to me. I give the best advice I can. People respect that."
Eastman admits that her job does consume her life. "You don't leave it behind in most cases. I don't live close by, so I have a lot of time to think about my job on my way to work and home." But she focuses on the perks: "I have a great boss, I work with good people. It's a great local company."
Would she ever want to do anything else? "I don't think I could," Eastman says firmly. "I love my job. I just really love it."
Parking Garage Attendant
Doug Tyler has been working at the parking garage in Montpelier for the past six years. To describe his job, he refers to the manual: "I process transactions. I collect fees due and settle customer payment issues in a courteous and professional manner.
"Of course," amends Tyler, "I had the courteous and professional manner before I got the job."
He says the parking garage has been a good place to work. "You get to meet people, and it's not like I'm stuck in a shed, or a factory," Tyler says. "It's pretty cool."
Between the morning and afternoon rushes, of course, things can get a little slow. Tyler tries to stay busy "interacting with customers, walking around the facility and making sure people aren't breaking into cars." But he admits that down time can be a bit tough.
"How do I fight through the lag time? I'm still trying to figure that out. I mean, everyone's trying to get to the other side, but maybe there isn't one," Tyler says philosophically. "Maybe it's a big can of worms. Who knows?"
Harvey Klein always wanted to be a psychiatrist when he grew up. "I was strongly influenced by forces in my family," he says. "My father was an M.D. -- a general practitioner -- and the idea was inculcated in me early on."
Thirty years after he began practicing, Klein's typical day involves seeing individuals and couples and consulting on medication with his patients and those of other psychotherapists. He doesn't bring his work home with him as much as he used to. "I'm always on call, so in that way I'll get calls from clients after hours," he says, "but I've been getting better about leaving work at work.
"I like most when I am able to make a meaningful connection in a way that has meaning for them and me. I think that's informative for both of us," Klein adds. His mentor, Carl Whitaker, first developed the notion that "If the therapist is growing, then chances are pretty good that the client is gaining something as well. It's not me fixing you. It's me encountering you, who have the same issues in your life that I have in mine, and we figure out together how to be more human."
Is there anything that he'd rather do? "If I had the skills," he admits, "I'd play the violin. I play, but [I'd do it] more seriously than I do. I find I learn things about myself when playing the violin, just as I do in my activity as a psychiatrist. They don't call it 'practice' for nothing."
Although he writes plays, essays, children's fiction and his own cyberzine, David Budbill says, "The bottom line is, I consider myself a poet." Now a Wolcott resident, he's been writing since high school and figures he's probably been a poet "officially" since the early '60s when he was living in New York. "It doesn't matter, though, what the subject, genre, style, approach," Budbill adds. "I'm trying to move people to feel things in their life. I have certain religious or political commitments to the neglected, or forgotten people. But I'm trying to make people feel more intently."
What does Budbill love most about his vocation? "My independence," he says without hesitation. "I'm a hard worker, but my time is my own. I get up and do whatever I want to do. So for instance, I'm loading the woodshed for the winter right now."
Of course, the lack of pay is frustrating. "I'm 63 and I struggle to make $16,000 a year, while all my friends are retiring," Budbill admits. "I see people -- lawyers, doctors, less experienced -- making pots of money."
Yet he wouldn't trade his flexible life for anything. "Do anything else? I can't imagine. I'm doing what I want to be doing," he insists. "I don't want to be a tugboat captain."
John McCardell became Acting President of Middlebury in late 1991 when his predecessor suddenly stepped down -- the same season Lt. Governor Howard Dean suddenly took the helm. "Unlike Howard Dean," jokes McCardell, "I have no designs on higher office."
No day is typical for a college president, although there are a few regularities for McCardell. In the fall he teaches an American History course one evening a week -- not a requirement, but he thinks it's important. "We are, after all, primarily in the education business," he suggests. Much of his time is spent in meetings with the provost, alumni or business leaders. "Whoever said being a college president is like being a mayor said it best," McCardell explains. "It's a very public position. But no question, what makes work at a place like this interesting and challenging and pleasant is the people."
Is this what McCardell wanted to be when he grew up? "When I was 4, did I say I wanted to be a college president? My goodness, no," he laughs. "I was trained as a historian. It never dawned on me that I'd be doing something like this. I can't claim to have figured everything out, but I think my on-the-job training has been pretty successful. I enjoy my job thoroughly."
Is there anything else he'd rather be doing? McCardell pauses before answering. "I'd love to be able to play a musical instrument," he muses. "I'd love to be better at a foreign language. I wish I were a better athlete. I'm none of these things, but if I had world enough, and time..."
If you've purchased coffee at Capitol Grounds in Montpelier anytime over the last six years, there's a good chance that Parad Meier roasted your beans. Though she says learning to roast doesn't take much training, she's taken it upon herself to master the caffeinated cuisine. "I went to Idaho, where our roaster is made, and took a three-day workshop," she says, ticking off other seminars in Miami and Boston. Why all the study? "The more you know, the more interesting it is," she says.
Meier puts her knowledge of the perfect bean to use in other ways. Supported by Capitol Grounds, she's volunteered to teach women, coffee growers and exporters in Honduras about the coffee industry in America. Helping growers see the value in organic coffees and exporters see the need for Fair Trade coffee has been rewarding. "There's a lot of potential to teach, but it's not what the average roaster does," Meier confirms.
With all that information, what are her favorite beans? "There's Sumatran, lots of Central and South American," Meier reports, "but the African coffees are the best, as far as I'm concerned."
Marilyn Skoglund has been a Vermont Supreme Court justice for the past six years. The position, which is appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the Senate, is only given to five judges in the state.
"Three days a month we sit to hear cases," Skoglund explains. "One day a month, we hear expedited cases -- ones that generally won't make new laws, or only involve easily resolved, single issues. The rest of the time I'm reading briefs, writing decisions and researching cases." Even when she's not on the job, she thinks about it constantly, she says. "I can be gardening and I'm still thinking about the cases."
Her favorite part? "It's so interesting to watch the process of the law being applied to the lives of real folks."
Although Skoglund admits that she wanted to be an archaeologist when she grew up, she seems pretty glad there weren't any jobs available in that field. "The legislature just changed the retirement age to 90. Now, I frankly don't want to be alive at 90," she says with a laugh. "But I want to keep doing this job, because I'm loving every minute of it."
Pastor/Family Center Director
Self-described flatlander David Connor has been working at both the Lamoille Family Center and the Old Meeting House in East Montpelier ever since he moved here from New York in the mid-'90s. In his job at the Family Center, Connor oversees programs that serve teenagers who are pregnant or parenting or in crises like homelesness and addiction. In his role as a pastor, Connor also does counseling, as well as attending to church services and organizing youth activities.
"The work I've done, no matter where, is one version of the impulse to try to empower and serve people," says Connor. "I've [always] wanted to be someone who was able to make a difference in people's lives." This can be challenging. "There are limited resources. It can be difficult," he admits. "Education and human services are only as good, in a way, as the economy that's willing to be involved in them."
Still, Connor finds satisfaction at the end of the day. "When you realize how much potential there is to make a difference, you can find hope in the midst of what looks pretty disastrous," he says. "You think that you've got some message to inspire these young, pregnant [or] parenting teens, but you find that they keep inspiring you. They have two and a half strikes against them, and they're still hanging in there. They're my heroes.