First Generation, Part 1

June 13, 2016

bob1“First generation” can have assorted connotations. For this blogther (blog blather) it pertains to college student, which is appropriate to Chatfield College, don’t you know.

Imagine this guy going to college for a minute? Go ahead, I’ll wait.  I, my mother, countless assorted acquaintances, and anyone who knows me, still find my life path surprising…but more about that later.

In 1973, the word “college” did not exist in our vocabulary. I come from a line of factory workers—that’s what we did. I still have a brother employed as such. Not long after I posed for this picture in my brother’s borrowed suit jacket, I gave a friend a ride to work on a certain Saturday, to a factory. On that day, I was offered a job- which I accepted- and stayed for thirty years and nine months. In the end, I was cordially invited to vacate (in retrospect one of best things that ever happened). In those days, it was common to get married, have kids, and stay at the same job for life, end of story. At that age, life seemed an invisible inevitable journey, too long for me to contemplate, if even at all. I now consider life an illusion of preposterous proportions.

I began as an assembler, assembling the product my department produced – electronic air cleaners. For the first few years, I was content in the role and in time, I moved up to department lead. After a few more years, I was fortunate to move to the maintenance department, a highly coveted position, and I was given the opportunity to make more money, and more importantly, to gain more knowledge. Nearing my 28th year, and after the business was acquired from the original owners by a holding company- which I will refer to as a faceless corporation- I was sentenced to mandatory education. I was 47 years old at the time. By then, the six person maintenance department had been pared to two, my coworker and I. We were required by management to take turns attending a community and technical college program, Industrial Electrical Maintenance. My co-worker took the first session; I went kicking and screaming (on the inside) after his return. The program lasted ten weeks, five days per week, eight hours per day. Upon arrival, I was introduced to the main instructor, Jack, an older gentleman who taught for a living and earned degrees for fun. Jack was a personable fellow and it didn’t take long to share our respective life stories. After the first two days I realized, as the famous Sam Wyche once said, “there’s more to life than a frickin’ football game.” (I heard him say this on television, although there’s no attributed record of him ever saying it, and it still makes all the sense in the world to me.) Jack took the fear away and replaced it with curiosity, interest, and fun, all hand sown with an optional future. Jack put a bug in my ear, “you need to get out of this kind of work, it’ll kill ya.”

Short story long, I excelled at the program and aced it all. After all, I had done that work for over thirty years. I’m thinking that faceless corporation didn’t want to be responsible if I killed myself or somebody else.  When I returned to my job, I lobbied the HR department to grease up the tuition reimbursement machine.

“We’ve never had anyone do that,” they said.

“Well we’re gonna do it now,” I said.

I started shopping for the most likely (i.e. cheap) school I could find, found one and started part time. For the next three years, I drove one hundred miles two to three days per week including work and school. Work paid 75 percent tuition if I received B’s or better, which I did, except for algebra.  I only earned two C’s in college and one, the first one, was Beginning Algebra. Fortunately for me, I came in under the wire before the state upped math requirements. Choosing degrees with no additional math requirement was an important criterion for me. Apparently, Agriculture Production, my choice for schooling, wasn’t on the list of acceptable concentrations my employer would pay for. When they realized my goal, they borrowed one of my monkey wrenches and thrust it into the whole college machine thing I had going on. Reluctantly, I switched to Electrical Engineering Technology, against my will and better judgment.

The summer of 2004 brought our two oldest grandchildren, a boy 4, and girl 8, into our home to live. That Christmas, my job invited me to leave – remember that from earlier? Funny thing…I had all my core education paid for by then. In February 2005, while collecting unemployment for the first time in my life, I was fortunate to be hired by Chatfield College as a part time janitor. I perceived that God had long ago set things in motion (history is always written later). After a couple of weeks, I was told that when my unemployment ran out, I would be hired on as Director of Physical Plant, which did happen. I wanted to go to college, so working at a college was a God-send.

bob2Fast forward two years and I had earned an AA in Human Services, and saw a new career launch that was four years in the making. I should explain that the Human Services decision was a process of elimination. Concentration choices were Business (I wanted nothing to do with that), Early Childhood Development (same thing), Transfer Module (I had no idea what that was), and Human Services (it sounded interesting). I went from fixing things to trying to fix people. (Just a hint…things are much easier to fix.) I began working with “at-risk” youth in an adjoining county. Our goal was to help young people piece their lives together, threading broken or abandoned education attempts, work skills, and wayward paths, into jobs to become successful.


Join me soon for the next installment of blogther



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