Jerry Davich: 62 years on the job not something we’ll see again
Jerry Davich email@example.com January 12, 2013 7:46PM
Elaine Giolas reacts to seeing so many friends, family and co-workers who surprised her with a retirement party on Sunday, January 6, 2013 in Valparaiso. Elaine worked for the same insurance agency for 62 years, Pampalone Insurance, after graduating from Froebel High School in Gary in 1950. | Michael Gard~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:28AM
Elaine Giolas didn’t have a clue as she strolled into the Old Town Banquet Center in Valparaiso last Sunday afternoon.
“Shhhhhh … here she comes, everyone,” whispered a family member at 2:55 p.m.
The 79-year-old Valparaiso woman walked into the hall, and those whispers turned to shouts.
“Surprise!” the crowd yelled in unison.
“Congratulations!” one woman told her.
Giolas looked around in stunned disbelief, camera flashes went off, and she immediately put her hands to her face.
“What the heck?” she asked, gazing back at dozens of familiar faces. “What is this?”
“Happy retirement!” a man told her.
Giolas glanced at her husband, John, who escorted her into the building.
“Did you know about this?” she asked.
John, a familiar-named retired professional photographer in this region, could only smile the cheesiest of smiles.
Of course he knew about it. He made it happen. He told his long-time wife that they were attending the wedding reception for their friend. Elaine bought it hook, line and sucker. So much so that she insisted on bringing a gift for the new “bride and groom.”
“Did you really get married?” she asked the friend as other guests laughed.
No, he replied with a smile.
All the fuss was for Elaine, who retired from her job at the very end of last year. But it’s the unusual circumstances surrounding her job that compelled me to visit the banquet hall for her surprise retirement party last Sunday.
You see, back in 1950 at the Gary Public Schools’ Memorial Auditorium on Broadway, Elaine gave her valedictorian speech for Froebel High School. The 17-year-old graduate then walked a couple blocks north and applied for a job at Allied Insurance Agency.
She initially wanted to attend college, having the obvious brains and all, but her family didn’t allow it. “You should be a secretary,” they told her. She did what she was told.
M.J. Pampalone, from the insurance company, hired her as just that, a secretary. She started by filing paperwork and other typical secretarial tasks. But she eventually learned everything there was to know about the insurance business. From the ground up, inside and out.
Elaine continued to work at the Gary business, even after it evolved into the Pampalone Insurance Agency and moved to Merrillville in the 1970s. She helped train the new “girls” and she even helped baby-sit the owner’s two young sons at the time, Mike Jr. and Tom. (They would grow up to become her bosses.)
Elaine had two sons of her own, Markus and Dale, and she considered quitting her job after their births. But she just couldn’t do it. Her job was more than “just a job,” and more than merely a career. It was already part of her life.
Not so for younger workers
The years peeled away. Then the decades. She kept working the same job. It was challenging at times, with new upgrades, procedures and high-tech tools to learn. But she simply loved it.
When she turned 65, she again considered retirement. But only for a spell. Again, she just couldn’t do it.
“I never knew a time that my mom did not work,” Elaine’s now 60-year-old son, Dale, told guests at her party. “She taught us loyalty, dedication, and responsibility.”
Her other son, Markus, also attended the surprise party, along with his wife, Tammi Franke, who served as “lookout” when Elaine arrived.
“We’re all crossing our fingers that she doesn’t know about this party,” Markus told me minutes before his mother showed up. “She’s pretty smart about these things.”
Maybe so, but dozens of friends, family members and co-workers were somehow able to keep it a secret from her. It gave her “the biggest surprise of my life,” she told me afterward.
“I was stunned, to be honest,” she added.
Her last official day at work was Dec. 28. How did she spend it there?
“I cried most of the day,” she admitted.
“That speaks volumes for her,” her husband, John, told me. “Just think, 62 straight years of loyal service at the same job. She was never one to blow her own horn, so I have to do it for her.”
I pondered Elaine’s workplace feat for a few minutes — 62 years straight at the same job. Wow, how unusual is that? How impressive is that? How impossible will that be for younger generations, let alone for today’s high school graduates?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today stays at their job for 4.4 years before hopping to another job.
And, get this, nine out of 10 “millennials” (born between 1977 and 1997) are expected to stay at a job for even lesser time, three years or fewer. In other words, they would end up working between 15 to 20 jobs over the course of their work lives.
This may seem insane to old-timers who toil for decades in the same workplace, such as steel mill workers in Northwest Indiana. But, in our drive-through and disposable society, it’s simply the norm for younger workers. It’s all they will know.
This is why I had to write about Elaine and her six decades of service to the same employer. Younger workers might label her milestone as foolish, wasting her job skills, talents and marketability. But they’re missing a bigger picture that often transcends a weekly paycheck and 401(k) benefits.
“I’m really going to miss the people there more than anything else,” she told me.
This insightful comment seems the perfect ending to her valedictorian speech from so long ago.
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