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One Woman's Opinion

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Hard Times, Part 6

Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Marry Wakefield Buxton

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Urbanna, Va.— At the same time (1961-62) I was struggling to make a go of it in Cleveland, the Wakefield Corporation, which the company was now called, was entering a time of intense competition in both domestic and global markets.

As a defense, the company merged with Art Metal in Cleveland and Abrasive Metals Products in Detroit while also opening a factory in London, Ontario. The family still ran the company; two uncles served as president and CEO and Father continued on as chief engineer producing the innovative “Red Dot” industrial ceiling lighting products that kept the business profitable.

But managing a business is tough work. Every time I return to Vermilion and drive by the boarded up offices of Grandfather’s old company, I am reminded of the fine line between making a profit, staying competitive in business and not doing so. I saw, firsthand, how global competition, copious government regulation, growing union demands and high corporate taxes have forced many American companies to shut down or move to foreign countries in order to compete.

The idea in the 60s was that merged smaller companies could pool their tightening resources and be better able to compete against larger U.S. corporations and growing overseas competition. But, Father was already concerned about the future of the family business that his father had started in 1906. He could barely imagine such a catastrophe, but the day could come when the town’s largest private-sector employer could shut its doors forever. 

I had no time for such concerns as I had my own problems to solve. I had turned 20 and was working in Cleveland living in a rented apartment in the old Alexander Winton estate. I needed to find a safer residence. The drunken caretaker forever banging on my door finally motivated me to pack up and move.

My next address was a rented upstairs bedroom in a private residence off Clifton Boulevard with kitchen privileges to share with the resident family. The mother was a hard-working owner of a greasy spoon restaurant that served breakfast and lunch, and she rose every morning at the crack of dawn to serve her patrons. She had two sons; one a young boy by her latest marriage to a younger husband, who appeared to be unemployed. The other son also was an overweight, sulking son by an earlier marriage, who did nothing but watch TV. None of these characters gave me a sense of a secure lodging, but I decided to take a chance with the new digs.

This turned out to be rather like the adage . . . “jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” The lay-about husband turned into a hard-drinking lout who took to beating his son in the basement during late night fits of rage. Father wanted me to “experience real life” and “reconnect to my family’s roots in poverty,” but this was too much. All I could think to do was vacate immediately.

I moved to another home in Lakewood between Clifton and Detroit Avenue where I finally found a secure residence in a house with a kind, elderly couple and an upstairs dedicated to a few other girls who shared the entire floor of three bedrooms, bath and kitchen. I was joined by an old friend from Vermilion who was also working in Cleveland. At long last, I felt safe in my home away from home. I felt encouraged . . . like I was making some headway in slowly improving my new life.

On Christmas Eve, my job as Mrs. Santa Claus came to a sudden end. I needed to find a permanent job with benefits where I could advance and improve my dire economic situation. I well understood my success or failure in life would now stem on my ability to succeed in the business world.

I checked in with “Exclusively Girls” employment agency where I was interviewed by a lady who immediately set up a job interview for me with Trans Canada Airlines (now called Air Canada) that had an opening for a reservationist in their Cleveland sales office in the Hanna Building. But I would have to pass a typing test with a minimum of 40 words per minute.

In those days women had no value unless they could type (now everyone must type, which shows true gender equality has finally arrived). I began a series of interviews with the “British” Canadians who managed the Cleveland office. They spoke with strange, clipped accents and pronounced some words differently from Americans, (for example, they said “shed-ule” instead of “sked-ule”), but I felt positive about my interviews.

A growing company, the Canadians told me they aimed to build Cleveland as a major American gateway to Canadian cities, Europe and points south. I felt a twinge of excitement and suddenly realized I wanted to work for a business that strived to be top in its field.

But, how would I ever pass their dratted typing test? (To be continued)


posted 10.19.2016

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