Summers in Tyler, it’s easy to spot teens and 20-somethings hustling at grocery stores, restaurants and retail. Have summer jobs changed over the last three generations? What were typical summer job seven decades ago?
Six senior Tyler residents in their 60s, 70s and 90s tell about the summer jobs they held as young adults and share their best advice for today’s generation in the workforce.
Hazel Grubbs, 90, wheat harvesters assistant
“In the summer of 1946, just before my 14th birthday, the Leper Wheat Farm gave me room and board to help that summer with harvesting wheat crops.
“It was in Alfalfa County, Oklahoma, between Dacoma and Carmen, small country towns.
“I would hang clothes on the line and help clean the house. I learned what a vacuum was; [I had] never seen one. I washed dishes and provided refreshments and sandwiches for harvesters working in the field.
“I was grateful for my bed and room, and their house had a bathroom in their nice home with water faucets inside the house. The Wilson Farm invited me to live with them and be a big sister for their 6-year-old girl, and we went to school at Dacoma School.
“Later in my junior high school, my summer job was at the Five & Dime Store in Miami, Oklahoma. I was living with the Murray Family and attending Picher High School. It would cost 5 cents to ride a bus to Miami, and the pay was 35 cents an hour.”
Grubbs’ advice to young workers:
“Always be on time and don’t miss work unless necessary. Greet customers with a smile. Express your interest in the company, and don’t make personal phone calls during work time.”
Jack Caswell, 73, lawn chair delivery
“When I was 20 years old, I worked at an aluminum outdoor chair company in Nacogdoches, Texas. The name of the company was Gay Products.
“They made a bunch of lawn chairs and shipped a lot of them to Gibson’s, which was the big retail shop back then, Kmart type. I worked in supply, which meant I had delivered parts … to various sections of the company. It was a pretty good size building.
“I also unloaded the aluminum tubing that came in on an 18-wheeler, and there were 20-foot-long tubes in bundles of about a hundred of each. I got to use this strapper apparatus; you pick it up with a lift from the ceiling and move it over and stack it somewhere nearby.
“If I remember correctly, I think I made something close to $2.25.”
Caswell’s advice to young workers:
“Find a job that you like to do because if you like what you’re doing, you’re good at it.”
Melva Asberry, 66, volunteer
“As a young adult, I always worked with the March of Dimes. I was one of the 78th walker fundraisers for Bank of America.
“During the summer job, I would work with Fair Park when they would do the farming and stuff like that.
“And I worked with some of the schools as a volunteer in Dallas, Texas.
“As an adult, I worked 36 years and eight months for Bank of America. And I’ve always done some volunteering at different schools and nursing homes.
“During all the volunteering through the communities and the schools, I received a President George Bush award for a number of volunteer services, and I also received one from Obama. That means a lot.”
Asberry’s advice to young workers:
“My advice for young people is to make sure that they interact with older people. Not only older people, but be able to give back to the community, because it makes a difference and makes a stronger family and community.
So it pays off in the end.
“When they’re working with the older people, they learn some values and wisdom, and then one day they are going to be old, too. You get it now, or you get it later.
“So, when you work and you give, you get back, and it makes you a stronger citizen.
“Another thing: what they don’t realize is a lot of times when you get out and you put yourself out there and you do well, people will remember you. They can open up some doors where you can get scholarships, different things.”
Gustavo Herrera, 67, drill collar cleaning and inspection
“When I lived in Mexico, I worked for a petroleum company called Pemex in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. I started working there when I was 16.
“The department I worked in was tanks and pipes. I would clean and inspect the drill collars, a tool in an extremely heavy tube shape. It helps give the drill bit weight, which is used to penetrate the ground when digging for oil.
I worked for one of the highest-paying jobs in Reynosa at the time. I made 1,800 pesos per week. Back in the day, $40 equaled about 500 pesos. It was hard work, but the pay was worth it.
“When I turned 18, I moved to Tyler, Texas, and began to work at Tyler Pipe.”
Herrera’s advice to young workers:
“One piece of advice I have for young people today is to study. Don’t leave your studies to go to work. Studies are essential to establish a better future.”
Nora Moure, 65, cashier
“I was 14 years old, and my first summer job was as a cashier in a Mexican family restaurant. I loved my job there. It made me feel good about myself to earn money to help my mother.
“My father passed away when I was 3 years old, and times were difficult.
“My sister helped me get this job. I did my best to look nice in my hand-me-down clothes. I earned about 120 pesos a week. At that time, a U.S. dollar equaled to 8 pesos. The restaurant’s name was Restaurante Santa Fe in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.”
Moure’s advice to young workers:
“Work whatever hours you can during the summer, but never stop going to school to make a little money. If you leave school to make money, you will miss out on the opportunity to earn a degree and potentially become the boss of a company.
“I never had the chance to earn a degree. I dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but I couldn’t pursue that dream because my family was too poor to pay for my schooling.”
Pete Morris, 68, sacker and stocker at Bergfeld Brookshire’s
“It was a rite of passage that everybody I knew worked at Brookshire’s over there in Bergfeld Center, and I believe I made $1.70 an hour. Every guy that worked there [as] a sacker or a stocker was in my class at Lee.
“It’s not the actual store that’s there now, but it was the building to the left of the existing store. Back then, that was the biggest store Brookshire’s had, and you could fit about two of them into that store on Rice Road now.”
Morris’ advice to young workers:
“I’ll tell you the one thing that seems to be missing is commitment to do the job and be willing to do jobs you might not like. I would’ve much rather had some other kind of job than sacking groceries, but I started at 16, and before then, I was mowing yards.
“When you have a job, you have to be willing to do well. For lack of a better word, [willing to do] the tougher jobs, tougher things.
“There was one situation where back then, they didn’t have a lot of rules as far as disposing of meat and such.
“They would throw the fat and everything they got rid of during the butchering … into these containers until they finally decided to get an automated trash crusher.
“And I had the job of going out there, and I was told to kill as many mice as possible. I was out there with one other guy and a broom and we had to run and try to kill these mice before they got into the store.
“That was probably the crappiest thing I ever had to do, but it was either that or lose the job.
“In other words, don’t be lazy. If you’re lazy, then your bosses will know it very quickly.”
Sorayda Rivera graduated from Tyler Junior College with an associate’s degree in public relations and advertising. While there, she wrote for the school newspaper, The Drumbeat, and won five Texas Intercollegiate Press Association awards. She is now attending The University of Texas at Tyler, studying mass communications.
Love what you're seeing in our posts? Help power our local, nonprofit journalism platform — from in-depth reads, to freelance training, to COVID Stories videos, to intimate portraits of East Texans through storytelling.
Our readers have told us they want to better understand this place we all call home, from Tyler's north-south divide to our city's changing demographics. What systemic issues need attention? What are are greatest concerns and hopes? What matters most to Tylerites and East Texans?
Help us create more informed, more connected, more engaged Tyler. Help us continue providing no paywall, free access posts. Become a member today. Your $15/month contribution drives our work.