by mia hinkle
“How did you get your first job?” [I took this a little far and here I tell you about all my jobs.]
My first paying job was picking strawberries. It was the summer of 1966, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and my family of five was living in a two-bedroom apartment. Working that field was awful and hot, muggy and buggy, and undoubtedly the worst job I ever had. Picture this: a bunch of middle school kids riding in the back of a one-ton truck with wooden slats around the box to hold us inside all the way to the strawberry fields. There were so many of us we had to stand up. The truck delivered us to the strawberry farm by 7:30 in the morning. Don’t believe what they tell you about Minnesota. It isn’t always cold there. In the summertime it is H-O-T hot: 9am – 90 degrees – and – climbing hot. We picked berries all day for a quarter a quart, cash at the end of the day. I don’t think I lasted too long at this job; sunburn and heatstroke were dangerous for this little blonde Norwegian. My Mom had pity on me and let me quit, which was as simple as not showing up for the truck ride to the fields.
I was 14 years old in 1968, the summer between eighth and ninth grade when I got a job babysitting for a family in our neighborhood for $20 a week. Five days a week from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm I cared for a five-year-old girl, a boy just a year younger than me, and a girl my age who was mentally retarded [that was the term back then]. Cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, getting dinner started for the family, doing dishes, straightening up, and entertaining the children. Not much on daytime TV in 1968 and certainly no video games. I now wonder exactly what I did to entertain such a diverse group all day long all summer long.
By ninth grade, my friend Diane and I were virtually inseparable and starting to spread our wings. We had class together, we hung out together, we had summer birthdays together, we rode the school bus together and then called each other the minute we got off the hour-long bus ride, we dressed up and took the city bus downtown Minneapolis together, we went to school dances and football games together, we got dissed by the popular girls together, we snuck out together, we looked for trouble on Windy Hill together, we sipped cherry vodka together, we listened to Mason Profit through Dave’s bedroom window together, we smoked cigars together when Diane’s surprise baby brother was born, we bought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin albums together, we got our drivers licenses together, and we had our first hoodlum boyfriends together. Oh…did I mention we were grounded for the better part of our freshman year together? Our folks thought we were no good for each other. But we knew otherwise. We are still good friends today. Many years later, I was living in Indiana and Diane was living in the Virgin Islands, we became mothers together at the ripe old age of 35. We are indeed kindred spirits.
I was 15 in 1969. I know there must have been important news going on in America, but I wasn’t paying much attention. That was the year I got my first W-2 job at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre washing dishes for $1.35 an hour. Actually, Diane and I got jobs in the dish room together. It was hot and sweaty work but we didn’t care…we had our own moolah! It didn’t take long, and we were both promoted to usherettes in the 600 seat dinner theatre. The play was Damn Yankees, and we got to dress in baseball caps and tight jeans. We were the cat’s meow! We were rolling in dough at $1.50 an hour. Gas was 47 cents a gallon. Over the next twelve years, the Dinner Theatre would offer ideal hours for me as I worked my way through high school and college; from the dish room to usherette to cashier to waitress to bartender to hostess. It was an amazing place with four professional theatres under one roof serving 920 dinners out of two kitchens in two hours before the plays would begin. My job at the Dinner Theatre became my social and educational life. In by 5:00 pm and out by 9:00 pm, it was the perfect evening job for students, especially when the tips were good. For years after I left there, however, I would have nightmares about serving salads in a panic as the lights were going down, unable to find my tables.
I got married in December 1981 and moved to Indiana on Christmas Day. I traveled all over the country with his band until summer and then decided to get an accounting job. I had just received my degree 6 months prior and had never worked in accounting before. We lived at 161st and Ditch, which back then, was a long way from anywhere. One day I drove to 116th and Meridian where there were a number of tall buildings full of offices of all kinds. I looked around those buildings and said to myself, “Someone in one of these offices in one of these buildings needs me to work for them.” So all dressed up in heels and hose, I walked the halls of those buildings handing out my resume to receptionist after receptionist (in other words people who had literally no decision-making power in their company’s accounting departments.) Finally, I walked through the front doors of Fiduciary and General, an insurance holding company, owned by Russ Tolley. I handed the receptionist my resume at the exact moment the brand new CFO Neil Bardach walked through the lobby. She said, “Here is the person you need to talk to about a job in accounting.” He read my resume right then and there, paused for a moment, smiled and said, “When can you start?” I nearly fell off my three-inch spikes! I answered, “How much does it pay?” He replied, “How much do you want?” I hadn’t thought this far into the scenario, “How about $14 per hour?” He said, “It’s a deal.” That was the summer of 1982. I came back the next morning and worked at F&G for a couple of years until they were forced into bankruptcy by the Illinois Department of Insurance Compliance.
As the doors were closing on that business, my boss suggested I interview with John Biddinger who had recently opened an office at 91st and Meridian. A respected company, great boss, upwardly mobile, the whole shebang. This was a good fit for me and stayed there until 1996 when he semi-retired and moved his operations to Florida. I learned so much from this work experience. I learned about hard work, dedication, about the value of connection and living well. In my last year (1996) with BICC my salary, stock options, etc. totaled over $80,000. I remember thinking, “not bad for a little girl who wasn’t good at math in school”.
In 1998 my mother died and I was grateful I didn’t have a job at the time so I could be with her in her last days.
We had been attending Northview Christian Life in Carmel since 1982, and then were founding members of Radiant Christian Life in Westfield and attended there since 2000. I went to work for Radiant in October 2000 where Pastors John and Gary were so understanding about the importance of family obligations. My wage dropped nearly in half, but it was worth it to me. Walker and Jackson were 11 and 9 respectively and I loved having the flexibility to be involved in their school and sports activities. This was a fun job because I could do much more than accounting using other creative skills as the years tumbled by. My main responsibility was accounting and bookkeeping, but I also served on committees, took care of communications with the congregation, and had lots of interaction with the members. October 2022 will mark 22 years at Radiant, officially making me the oldest and longest employee on the books.
I have always been blessed with good jobs, good bosses, and good work environments. With one exception: picking strawberries. But that’s okay. Half of life is learning what you don’t want to do with it. Always remember, life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.