Julie Mutsko served ice cream cones as a 15-year-old at the Toledo Zoo and now has a full-time administrative job there.
After her freshman year at McAuley High School, Julie Mutsko figured she was ready for prime time.
She had babysat and done chores around the house, but her friends were getting plump paychecks from “real” jobs. She found work spinning cotton candy onto paper cones and scooping ice cream at the Toledo Zoo, a place that has provided first-time jobs to thousands of young people.
During her 15th summer, Ms. Mutsko learned about responsibility and working with others. She made friends, and enjoyed the animals. She lost her appetite for cotton candy, but 20 years later she boomeranged back to the zoo. In December, she signed on as human resources coordinator and tells new employees about her initial work experience.
Usually menial and undertaken in the teen years, a first job is a brave step onto the ladder of adulthood. It's likely to be seasoned with moments of insecurity, pride, boredom, fear of missteps, and the sweet taste of financial freedom.
We canvassed well-known Toledoans for their memories, and asked readers to call in with their first-job stories.
For Toledo First Lady Cynthia Ford, the prospects of shopping and wearing a uniform were motivation enough to head for the Burger King in Bowling Green following 9th grade. “I wanted independence. I wanted to be able to go shopping whenever I wanted to go,” she said. “I felt like I was part of a team. They depended on me to be there on time.”
Marcella McNeal, whose first job was babysitting when she was 10, says the experience taught her about money.
She rode her bike to the fast-food restaurant where she wiped tables and greeted customers. “Maybe I'll be a Meijer's greeter when I retire,” she said. “I really appreciate that my parents let me work.”
Her husband, Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, mowed three yards on Fair Street in Springfield, Ohio when he was 10. Pushing a nonmotorized reel mower and edging with hand clippers, he collected 50 cents per lawn, learning independence and stick-to-it-iveness, she said.
Toledo Catholic Schools Superintendent Sister Janet Doyle shared the family paper route with her five siblings, taking her turn at delivering when she was 10 and 11. As a young teen in the late 1950s, she realized she liked working with children when she spent the summer and weekends caring for preschoolers at an orphanage near her home in Farmington, Mich., near Detroit.
“It was really group babysitting,” she said. “We brought kids home for the holidays. I learned gratitude for my own family and an appreciation that not everybody has a two-parent family to grow up in.”
Looking after a neighbor's two babies brought a dollar a week for Marcella McNeal in the 1930s in Paducah, Ky. The children's mother took in sewing and typing at home, so 10-year-old Marcella kept the children occupied in the yard, fed them lunch, and put them down for naps throughout the summer.
“The main thing I learned was about money,” said Ms. McNeal, a retired beautician. “I learned not to spend everything I earned.”
Growing up in Findlay, Ann Brodbeck wanted to groom the golden palominos at a nearby stable. Instead, she washed pots and pans for a neighbor who catered weddings, and never saw a penny.
“My mother didn't want anyone to think that the family needed money. I got to lick bowls. And at the end of the day I got a bag or two of potato chips,” said Ms. Brodbeck. The caterer for whom young Ann worked was an owner of the Tasty-Tater Potato Chip Co.
“I learned to be on time. And not to ask when quitting time was,” she said.
Few first jobs are as intellectually challenging as Christa Adams' was. One of her high school teachers was an attorney who practiced law at night. He hired her when she was 15. “He trained me as a legal secretary,” said Dr. Adams, president of Owens Community College.
She continued working for him two years after high school, saving for college. But she got married and spent her nest egg on her husband's master's degree, and didn't enroll in college until years later, when she was the single parent of three children ages 2 to 6.
“Summer jobs are a great thing, but when kids are working weekends and evenings, it can be too much,” said Dr. Adams.
Lillian Ashcraft-Eason was 19 when she got her first job in the admissions office at Hampton University in Virginia. Growing up in nearby Newport News in the 1950s, her mother and grandparents didn't want her to work during high school out of concern that she'd be exposed to racism, said Dr. Ashcraft-Eason, director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of history at Bowling Green State University.
She kept that job for the next three years. “I thought it was very interesting. I learned how to file and how to organize. And I met lots of people; there were all classes and races,” she said.
For many people, especially when America was a more rural land, first jobs meant stooping or reaching to de-tassel corn, picking produce, and even harvesting worms, often in scorching heat.
Gary Kazmaier was a 14-year-old worm hunter out West in 1966. The Toledo boy was happy to be spending the summer with his aunt in Fort Collins, Colo.
Mornings, he and his older cousin arose at 4:30 and drove to an irrigated field spread with chicken manure. Wearing high boots and wielding pitchforks, they turned sloppy soil, harvesting thousands of fishing worms every day.
“We only took the big ones, about six inches long,” said Mr. Kazmaier. “We took them back and put them in Styrofoam containers and then drove to Wyoming and sold them.” Pay was 2 cents per, with an additional penny if they counted the worms.
That pre-dawn commitment ruled out evening play. But by summer's end, he had $360 in his first savings account, a Social Security number, and an appreciation for a task few people give a second thought to.
During the Depression, 16-year-old Emerence Grime wanted navy-blue ankle socks she had seen in a Sears' catalog.
Her father, a farmer, had set aside a plot of his best ground on which to grow pickles.
“In those days, most kids couldn't find work, especially if you were five miles out in the country,” said Ms. Grime, of Archbold. She earned her anklets by picking pickles every other day, earning a nickel for each pail of them.
“I learned how hard it was for anybody on a farm to make money,” she said. “I think I appreciated more than ever how hard my dad worked.”
Her older sister, Betty Lehman, of Toledo, picked raspberries for 2 cents a quart in 1929. She was 13. “On a good day some of us were able to pick as many as 50 quarts,” said Ms. Lehman. After 750 quarts, she had $15, with which she bought fabric and a dress pattern for a 4-H sewing project.
Tom Anslow of Catawba got a dime for every quart of strawberries he picked in 1969. “I was 15. My mom would drag my brother and I,” he said. Her intention: “To get spending money [for us], keep us busy, and teach us what a dollar means.”
They earned more for hoeing around fruit trees. “You got paid to be outside and you could eat a lot of peaches.” Some years ago, Mr. Anslow traded his job with a Washington defense-mapping agency for a farm in Catawba. He grows fruit and nine varieties of tomatoes and sells them at a fruit stand “out front” on State Rt. 53.
Mary Short was hired to do laundry at Cedar Point in 1978. She was 18. But the position didn't work out, so she was switched to “restroom stewardess,” cleaning bathrooms, changing light bulbs, and removing algae from the lagoons. “I didn't want to be sent home, so I was tickled pink when I was chosen for the restrooms,” said Ms. Short, of Toledo.
Sometimes working 15-hour days, she met lots of people and was surprised at how vigorously many of the college-student employees partied. “And what their moms and dads didn't know,” she said. “It was an eye opener.”