Job survival teaches us a lot about life and about yourself

NIAGARA, Wis. — Once we retire, we have more of an historical perspective of our entire work history. We not only remember the career that gave us our professional identity, but we can look back at the whole host of job experiences that led us to the one we enjoyed most, the one we were meant to have. Few of us travel the career road in a straight line from high school or college graduation to our life’s work. We learn from every experience, and we take that knowledge gained and apply it to the next step until we reach a destination that makes us happy with ourselves and our life.

For me, a very long and winding road took me to my career in public relations. My husband and I married before we attained our college degrees, and we took turns finishing school. While one of us was in school, the other worked a series of what we refer to now as our “survival jobs.” The wages paid our apartment rent and kept us in pizza and Dinty Moore stew back in the day when .29 bought a pound of chicken or loaf of bread and .55 brought home a pound of hamburger.

To this day, two of those survival jobs stick in my mind as if I worked them just yesterday. My first one was in a frozen foods factory where I was hired to work third shift. I had absolutely no experience in a factory and had no idea how grueling the work hours would be, but I could not turn down the wage of $3.15 per hour that included a shift differential and was much better than the $1.65 I had been making at the pizza place across the highway. The personnel manager had told me nothing more than to “wear white” so I showed up in the only thing I had — white tennis shoes, stockings and a white, short sleeved waitress dress I had from a previous summer job. I had also donned the hair net they had given me — but I had put it on backwards. I might as well have had “totally clueless” stamped on my forehead! For the next eight hours I hand packed frozen loaves of French bread — six per carton — as they tumbled toward me on a conveyor belt straight from the freezer. I worked in 40-degree temperatures all night.

I showed up the following night with my hairnet on straight and felt better prepared wearing heavy wool socks and long underwear beneath white jeans and a heavy white sweatshirt. They switched me to hand packing jelly rolls that came on racks of trays from the front of the plant where it was nice and warm. I visited with my fellow co-workers as we made our way through rack after rack of jellyrolls and sat down if my feet got tired from the cold concrete floor. Apparently, there were telltale signs of my “sitting” on the seat of my white jeans. As I left the night shift, one of the day workers hollered, “Can tell what you were doing all night!” Lesson one: do not sit down on the job.

Lesson two: do not talk while working. My chattiness with co-workers the night before got me switched from hand packing with them to packing by myself at the end of a conveyor belt. I started out by packing frozen dinner rolls — five sheets per box, weigh the box, tape it shut, turn and pile it on a pallet. I kept up just fine until they switched product to onion rolls. They were packed three sheets per box into smaller boxes. Suddenly, I was Lucy Ricardo on the candy packing line! As I was rushing to pack, weigh, tape and stack, four and five sheets of rolls were over flowing the waiting box and falling onto the floor, where they began to defrost and stick to the concrete as they were swept up. I was mortified and began to cry. No one thought I would show up the following night. But I did because the money was just too good to pass up.

I learned lesson three in order to survive. I knew I could not do another shift of onion rolls so I made friends with the dough maker on first shift. As I left each morning, I checked with him to find out what product he was making for the night shift to pack. If it was onion rolls, I called in sick. Thankfully, they did not run onion rolls too often so I did not burn through my allotted number of sick days too quickly.

I was pleasantly surprised one night to be switched to the front of the plant to replace a co-worker at the end of the tunnel oven. The job looked easy enough. The oven ran the entire length of the plant and contained a continuous sheet cake that eventually became the jelly rolls I was packing earlier. The batter was poured onto a never-ending sheet of parchment paper at one end, and by the time it reached me, it was baked. I had to cut through the cake and paper, holding a knife in one hand and a measure in the other so all the sheets were the same length. Then I moved the cake to a tray, the tray to a rack, and began again. The cake moved slowly, and I could keep up. But… I was not as tall as the man I had replaced so had little leverage on the knife. Consequently, I had to lean into my work. All of a sudden, lights started flashing, alarm bells rang, and blue-hatted supervisors came running out of the woodwork like ants out of an anthill. I looked down the oven and realized that as I leaned over, I had inadvertently hit a button that stopped my end of the conveyor belt. I watched in horror as the front of the belt kept moving, and the half-baked cake piled up onto itself in the middle.

I was laid off very shortly after that incident. They had tried valiantly to find a place for me, and I had tried hard to do the job. But it was simply not a good fit.

I next found a waitress job at a popular steak house with a very good clientele. Despite my previous experience waiting tables, I found I had a lot to learn about alcoholic beverages. To this day, I am grateful for “Art the bartender’s” endless patience. As I told him what drinks I needed, he would teach me as we went along. One night I ordered a bourbon and soda for my customer, and Art asked me sweet or dry. When I did not know, he instructed me to always ask sweet or dry when soda was ordered.

The very next order I took was for scotch and soda, and I dutifully asked the customer sweet or dry soda. I got a quizzical look, and he answered what I thought was “Soda, you know, charred water.” I went to see Art and ordered the scotch and soda and added, “Art, I did what you told me to do. I asked sweet or dry, and he said he wanted charred water.” Art gave a huge sigh, and explained that scotch was always mixed with dry soda. Then he said, “And that is charged water, not charred water.” Without missing a beat, he looked over my shoulder and said to the customer, who was waiting for a table and had overheard my lesson in mixology, “She used to be a nun, you know!”

I got a lot of help from my co-workers back then. Career waitresses taught me well, but I had to learn quickly. They were not going to spend a lot of time showing me because waitresses earn their living from tips not from pay checks. No one could afford to help out a newbie for too long. We dressed like cow girls, wearing orange boots all night long, and did all of our own cashiering table side. If mistakes were made, we made up for it out of our tips. I learned quickly how to make accurate change while rushed. Technically, everyone was expected to buy their cow girl uniform, but they knew I was only there until my husband finished school so they let me simply borrow it. And one of the other girls gave me a pair of orange boots she had replaced. The chef, bless his heart, looked the other way the night I loaded up a doggy bag with steak and lobster. I’d served a table of four a beautifully prepared surf and turf dinner. They had not taken a single bite and had turned down the to-go boxes I had offered. I could not bring myself to throw away that food even though it was against all restaurant rules to take any food home. The chef caught me red handed, and he very sternly said, “Just this once — never again.” So, my husband and I ate really well the next evening; it was such a treat … and a kindness I will never forget.

Yes, my survival jobs taught me a lot about life and about myself. I learned to work hard, that I could stick with it no matter how tough the challenge, and how to think on my feet. I also learned that there are plenty of people out there willing to lend a helping hand because they remembered what it was like to be young and struggling along life’s journey.






Scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Sunday: Ring toss, 1 p.m.; dunking donuts, 2 p.m.; church, 2:15 p.m.

Monday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; brouhaha, 11 a.m.; library cart, 1:30 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; ice cream social, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Crafts and gardening, 10:30 a.m.; reminisce, 1:15 p.m.; Kentucky Derby, 2 p.m.; evening visitor, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; rosary, 10:30 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; movie and popcorn, 3 p.m.

Thursday: Reading buddy,11 a.m.; bible study, 1:30 p.m.; pokereno, 2:30 p.m.; laundry day, 3:30 p.m.; Lawrence Welk, 5 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 11 a.m.; bunko, 1:15 p.m..; sing along, 2:30 p.m.; happy hour, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Meet and greet, 10:30 a.m.; daily newspaper, 11 a.m.; oldies but goodies, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.

Iron County 

Medical Facility

Crystal Falls

Sunday: One-to-one church visitors, 8:30 to 11 a.m.; room visits, 9 to 11 a.m.; storytelling, 10 a.m.; afternoon matinee with popcorn, 2 p.m.; Church of Christ, 3 p.m.

Monday: Garden club, 9:30 a.m.; resident council, 10:30 a.m..; exercise, 11 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; sunshine club, 2:30 p.m.; bonfire, 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday: Book club, 10 a.m.; Mass, 10 a.m.; mystery ride, 1 p.m.; wildlife film, 1:30 p.m.; current events, 2 p.m.; action movie, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Coffee social/yoga with Dodi, 10 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; getting pretty, 1:15 p.m.; men’s club, 2 p.m.; night bingo, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Puzzler, 9:30 a.m.; bowling, 10 a.m..; travel film, 1:30 p.m.; St. Mark’s church, 2 p.m.; happy hour, 2:30 p.m.

Friday: Crafts, 9 to 10:30 a.m.; exercise, 11 a.m.; senior scrappers 1 p.m.; throw away bingo, 2 p.m.; activity council, 3 p.m.; movie with Wal, 6 p.m.

Saturday: ICMCF word search/puzzle time, 10 a.m.; geri-gym, 11 a.m.; intergenerational social hour, 2 p.m.



Wet your whistle: 9:30 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Exercise: 10 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Movie: 10:45 a.m. daily, and 3:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Popcorn Day: every Friday

Sunday: Just jokes 10:15 a.m.; company’s coming room visits, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant church, 3 p.m.

Monday: Who, what, when, 10:15 am.; bingo, 2 p.m.; pokeno, 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday: Who am I? 10:15 a.m.; bowling, 2 p.m.; movie and manicure, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Remembering when, 10:15 a.m.; bocce, 2 p.m.; flip five on the patio, weather permitting, 5:45 p.m.

Thursday: Crosswords, 10:15 a.m.; good neighbor bingo, 2 p.m.; crazy for cards, 5:45 p.m.

Friday: All about June, 10:15 a.m.; Catholic Mass, 2 p.m.; chips and chatter, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday: Current events, 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.

Maryhill Manor

Niagara, Wis.

Rosary, 8:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9:30 on Friday.

Sunday: Catholic Mass, 9 a.m.; “Family Feud,” 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant service, 2:30 p.m.; Christian fellowship, 5:30 p.m.

Monday: Travel club, Pennsylvania, 10:15 a.m.; nickel jokereno, 2 p.m.; Baptist service, 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Current events, 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; Yahtzee, 6:15 p.m.

Wednesday: Sing along, 10:15 a.m.: jokereno, 2 p.m.; bible stories, 3 p.m.; camp fire/music, 6:15 p.m.

Thursday: Catholic Mass, 9 a.m.; Scattegories, 10:15 a.m.; drive-in movie, 2 p.m.; whammo, 6:15 p.m.

Friday: Mass and adoration, 10 a.m.; exercise, 10:15 a.m.; trivia, 10:30 a.m.; happy hour with Denise S., 2 p.m.

Saturday: Crafts, 10:15 a.m.; courtyard bag toss, 2 p.m.; pamper and polish, 5:45 p.m.

Victorian Pines

Iron Mountain

Juice time, 10 a.m. Sunday through Saturday.

Exercise, 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Shopping days: 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, must sign up.

Sunday: Bible study, 2:30 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Monday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Left-center-right, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Wednesday: Golden Throats sing, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m. 

Thursday: Music with Crystal, 2 p.m.; rosary, 3 p.m.

Friday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Movie and popcorn, 2 p.m.

Florence Health Services

Florence, Wis.

Morning news, 6 a.m. daily.

Beauty shop open on Tuesday and Thursday.

Sunday: Bingo 10 a.m.; music with Grace and Dave, 2 p.m.; reminisce, 6 p.m.

Monday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; dyna stretch, 2 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Uno, 10 a.m.; birthday party for Toni – happy 100th; music with Larry J, 2 p.m.; social hour, 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Uno, 10 a.m.; parachute volley, 2 p.m.; social hour, 3 p.m.

Thursday: Pastor Jason, 10 a.m.; manicures, 2 p.m.; one-to-one time, 3 p.m.; reading, 6 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 10 a.m.; fly swatter volley, 2 p.m.; social hour, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; facility family picnic party/music with Jan and Gino 12:30 p.m.

Pinecrest Medical Care Facility


Sunday: Grace church, 10:15 a.m.; sensory, 10:30 a.m.; beauty shop, 2 p.m.; Phase 10, 3:30 p.m.

Monday: Life connections, 9:45 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; song service, 1:30 p.m.; rosary 2:30 p.m.; bowling, 3:30 p.m.; Scrabble, 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Employee of the Month meeting, 10 a.m.; resident council, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; bingo, 1:45 p.m.; Scattergories, 3:30 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Shopping outing, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; Steve Vivio SCU, 1:30 p.m.; Steve Vivio, 2nd DR, 2:15 p.m.; rummy, 3:30 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Chair Chi, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 p.m.; bingo, 1:45 p.m.; cards, 3:30 p.m.; Sorry board game, 6 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 10:30 a.m.; busy bee, 12:45 a.m.; happy hour, 2:30 p.m.; bunco, 3:30 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Saturday: Trivia, 10:15 a.m.; coffee social, 10:30 a.m.; mind joggers, 2 p.m.; sensory, 3:30 p.m.


Note: All centers ask for 24-hour advanced reservations for lunch. If you have meals delivered and will not be home, notify the Center.

Alpha-Mastodon Center


Meal at noon every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Amasa Center


Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Lunch at noon.

Bingo on Tuesdays.

Free meal drawing on Thursdays.

Breen Center


Meals Monday through Friday.

Pasty sale every third Saturday of the month — except on holidays.  

Cards and games available 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. 

Hostess on duty Monday through Friday.   

Treats and coffee, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Center retail store is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday; volunteers and donations are welcome.

Birthdays acknowledged every day.

Evening meals are on the first and third Thursday of the month. Salad bar opens at 4 p.m., with dinner at 5 p.m. Donations are $4 for those 60 and older and $5 for 60 and younger.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen


Suggested meal donations: $5 for older than 60; $6 younger than 60; $1 extra for take-out

Call center by 1 p.m. with name and number of people to reserve meals.

Open: Monday through Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., soup and salad bar and 5 p.m., dinner.

Menu for the week of June 3 was unavailable:

Mondays: Basket weaving after dinner — all are welcome for dinner and/or class. Beginners can make their first basket with materials provided.

Crystal Lake Center


The center is closed on weekends.

Monday: Woodcarvers, 10 a.m.; Mahjong in dining hall, noon; Les Artistes Art Club, noon; Bridge Club, 12:15 p.m.

Tuesday and Thursday: Pinochle, 12:30 p.m.

Thursdays: Two-person team cribbage from 12:30 to 3:30 pm.

Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: Billiards, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday: Spinning Spools Quilters Guild, 1 p.m., crafters, scrapbookers and others also welcome; knitting and crocheting class, 1 to 3 p.m.

Friday: Smear, 12:30 p.m.

Last Saturday of the month: Music jam starting at 1 p.m. Admission is free. 

Dances take place from 7 to 10 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. Admission is $6; coffee is free. 

The Photo Club meets 1 to 3 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month.  

The kitchen is currently closed due to plumbing issues, and meals are being served at the Breen Center. Christine McMahon has information for all meals and can be reached at 906-774-2256, ext. 235. For transportation, call Buzzin’ Around Town at 906-282-0492. Rides are $3 for age 60 and older, and $3.50 for younger than 60. 

Transportation is available from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Felch Center


Meals served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Bingo after lunch on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

A congregate jigsaw puzzle is done daily.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.


Director: Tiffany White

Suggested donation for seniors older than 60 is $4 per meal. Residents younger than 60 must pay $7. Reservations and cancellations needed 48-hours in advance.

The ADRC can assist area seniors and those with disabilities with transportation Monday through Friday. Transportation reservation should be made with meal reservation.

Fence Center/Town Hall


Meal at noon Wednesdays only. Reservations are requested. Cribbage and cards are available.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall


Home-delivered meals are available as always. Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. at the center on Friday only. 

The meal site is temporarily closed Monday through Thursday due to a staffing shortage. 

Tipler Town Hall


Serving lunch at noon on the second Thursday of the month.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora


Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Transportation arrangements can be made to and from the meal site.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska


Meal is at noon Monday through Friday. Suggested donation is $3 for age 60 and older and $7 for those younger than 60. Morning coffee is available daily.

Fifteen games of “fun bingo” are played each Tuesday and Friday, along with a 50-50 drawing.

Tuesday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Wednesday: Cards played in the afternoon. Call ahead to see if a game will be going on.

Friday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Monday through Friday: Walking in the gym, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A treadmill also is available.

Enjoy friendly interaction with other crafters.

Iron River Center


Meals served 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; a $4 donation is encouraged from those 60 and older, and a $5 payment is required from those younger than 60. Thursday meal, 3:30 p.m. soup, 4 p.m. salad bar, with dinner at 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Home-delivered meals are available — call 906-774-2256 and speak to Christine Tramontine at ext. 235 or Stephen at ext. 230.

Menu for the week of June 3 follows:

Monday: Sloppy Joe, mac and cheese, peas, fruit and milk.

Tuesday: Chicken Alfredo, noodles, broccoli, fruit and milk.

Wednesday: Chef salad, hard-boiled egg, fruit and milk.

Thursday: Spaghetti and meatballs, Italian vegetables, breadsticks, fruit and milk.

Dance on Saturday, June 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. Cost is $6.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Noon meals served Monday through Thursday. Transportation is available to the meal site for those living in the Niagara, Wis., area. We welcome any senior groups who would like to use the meal site as a meeting place — join us for lunch and then stay for a meeting or social time. Wii games, cards, puzzles and board games are available to play. 

Other activities are in the works — suggestions are always welcome. 

Those who have not been at the meal site/senior center are invited to give it a try. Those who haven’t been here in a while are encouraged to come back.

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining


Monday through Thursday: Meals served at noon, with salad bar. Soup also is available at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Milk, juice, bread, fruit, tea and coffee served daily. Meal donation is $5. Reservation for the meal should be made in advance.

Two special-themed meals take place each month on Tuesday, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50 drawing.

Two evening meals offered at 5 p.m. on the first Monday and third Wednesday of the month, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50 drawing.

Tuesday, June 4 is quarterly food distribution from 9 am to 11 am at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 1210 Kimberly Ave., Kingsford

Wednesday, June 5: Blood pressure clinic, 11 a.m. to noon.

Menu for the week of June 3:

Monday: Noon: Breaded pork chop, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, salad bar, fruit, juice, and dessert; 5 p.m.: company chicken dinner, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, salad bar, fruit, juice, dessert. Bingo and prizes and 50-50. Sign up in advance.

Tuesday: Welcome Summer Dinner: Brats, potato salad, baked beans, soup and salad bar, juice, and dessert. Bingo and 50-50.

Wednesday: Savory steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, salad bar, fruit juice, and dessert.

Thursday: Chicken parmesan with penne pasta, garlic toast, green beans, soup and salad bar, fruit, juice, and dessert.

Cards are played daily after the noon meal.

Craft and exercise classes: Mondays and Thursdays.

Ceramic and art classes: Wednesdays.

Puzzles always in the works.

A senior coloring class meets daily. All are welcome. Some materials will be provided.

Sagola Center


Meals: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:45 a.m. Cards: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Commodities every other month and quarterly commodities are every three months. A puzzle table is available to enjoy. Volunteers are always welcome.