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Thank God for Hazel

I was sound asleep when the call came, “This is Hazel Bowen with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Personnel Department…” I thought I was dreaming after working 6 pm to 2 am the night before, what I called the “donuts for drunks” shift. I sat up in the dark room to clear my head. “Hello” I said again in disbelief. After failing their dreaded typing test, I had contacted the Star-Telegram again and again checking for any possible positions. I could tell Mrs. Bowen liked me when she sympathetically explained that 28 wpm with 16 errors was not an acceptable score to be considered for a position. Each time I called I assured her that, given a chance, my typing would improve. Now, Hazel Bowen was calling ME! I held my breath as I listened to her explain that the Classified Advertising department suddenly had several open positions for inside sales and that she was impressed with my persistence, which was a big part of the sales job. She went on to say that, if I was interested in the job, she would send me for the interview leaving the typing test out of my personnel folder. “If they ask for it, I will have to provide it” she explained, “but maybe they won’t miss it.” I was very interested in eating something other than bologna and eggs and learning something other than the best way to get ketchup out of a white uniform.
The next morning at 9 a.m., shaking in my good shoes, I was escorted to the front of a large room of about thirty women busily rolling forms into typewriters and talking through headsets. Arriving at the big desk in the front of the room, I was left with the supervisor, Lula Mae Koepp, who resembled General Patton in a polyester knit pant suit. She seemed incapable of smiling and did not make eye contact as she gruffly flipped through my folder and asked a few questions. I was then lead to the back office to meet the manager, Tommy Terrell. I had no idea at the time that this was a good sign.

Mr. Terrell exuberantly proclaimed the importance of advertising and stressed that the department goal was to “sell, sell, sell.” “Do you think you can do this job?” he asked, leaning toward me. “I can do anything I want to do” I strongly replied. He spread the ad section out before me “Do you want to sell ads?” he thundered. I looked him in the eye and said “yes, I do.” I was then taken back to the general’s side chair. She looked straight ahead, took a puff on her cigarette, and said “Can you come back Monday morning?” Oh God yes I thought. “For a second interview?” I asked. One corner of her mouth lifted in a dry grimace, “No, not a second interview, to go to work. The job is yours if you want it.” Shocked to my toes, I stared back at her until it sunk in. Losing all decorum, I jumped to my feet and said “To go to work? Do you mean I got the job? I got the job?” Heads turned in the office and looks were exchanged. I didn’t care. With no change in expression the general confirmed the offer and told me to be there by 8 a.m. on Monday.

I don’t remember walking out of the building. I do remember that the sky seemed a newer blue and I could not find where I parked my car. I had a real job. After knocking doors and answering ads for every little company in town, I had a job at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the job I had wanted more than any other. I was right on time the following Monday. The general had her assistant, Gladys, show me around and assign my desk. My desk. It was January 8, 1973. I finally had a desk, a hook for my coat in the break room, and the blessed relief experienced when faith and determination bear fruit.

I loved the job. I wore a headset that delivered calls from customers buying ads for everything from million-dollar real estate to lost cats. I typed the ads as callers dictated, read it back, and encouraged them to spend a bit more to make their ad more noticeable. I was good at it and quite proud when sales numbers were posted. I came to know my coworkers and was amused to realize that the group dynamics were not much different from high school. The set of various aged women encompassed complainers, gossipers, wild ones for the gossipers to roast, kiss-ups and tattlers, and kind Pollyannas. The work pace was very fast and the general was really tough which resulted in a pretty brisk turnover. We were frequently introduced to a “new girl.” In August that year, the new girl was Debi Morris, who would give me a run for my money. By the end of the year, I earned the reputation of one who could sell ice to Eskimos and my typing speed was 100 wpm… no errors. Thank you, Hazel Bowen.

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