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Community leaders recall summer jobs

June 13, 2009|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

TRI-STATE -- Today, they oversee a large jail, work in law enforcement, treat children, spearhead business growth, are a retired judge, advise farmers, and lead youth, Realtors and government.

But ask them a simple question -- Growing up, what was your favorite summer job? -- and the decades fade away, taking them back to a time when they were teenagers.

For this summertime story, The Herald-Mail contacted several Tri-State-area grown-ups whose names will be familiar to many.

Because they responded in the same spirit that the question was asked, we share the stories of a time past.

Richard "Dick" Phoebus

former president, Home Federal Bank of Hagerstown,

current president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF

Growing up in the Hamilton section of northeastern Baltimore, Richard Phoebus remembers working in the summer and during his junior and senior years of high school as a clerk in a grocery store.

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"All the guys in the neighborhood worked there," he said. "We stocked shelves and bagged groceries, and carried them out to ladies' cars."

"'Course, grocery stores were very much smaller then ... a tenth the size of what they are today," Phoebus said, with a laugh. "Exciting, huh?"

To a lad of 16 or 17 in the mid-1950s, the pay seemed a lot -- close to a dollar an hour, but there was a catch.

"We worked 48 hours a week and got paid $40," Phoebus said. "And then, we had to pay union dues.

"During the winter, we worked part time after school, so we didn't have to pay dues. But we were full time in the summer and had to pay, oh, I don't know, 10 bucks union dues."

Especially cool was the luxurious car that grocer Harry Pappas parked in back of the store.

"The owner had a 1955 or 1956 pink Cadillac convertible and, if he was really feeling good, he'd let one of us bring it around front so he could drive home," said Phoebus, 70. "You knew you'd really caught his eye if he'd say, 'Go out and get my car and bring it around.'

"You'd drive two blocks -- and feel you were really something special."

A year or so later, after he had managed to buy his own used car, the young Phoebus sported a trendy haircut called "the Detroit."

"It was a flat top on top and a little longer on the sides. Kind of like Fonzie, but not greasy," he said.

"I didn't dress like him," he said of the 1970s character in TV's "Happy Days" show. "I was very collegiate."

John Wetzel

warden, Franklin County (Pa.) Jail

offensive line coach of Shippensburg (Pa.) University's football team

Warden John Wetzel was ideally suited sizewise for the job he worked in Lebanon, Pa., while a junior and senior at Bloomsburg (Pa.) University two decades ago.

"I worked on an ambulance," said Wetzel, 40. "It was pretty cool because it was an ambulance service and the guy also owned a funeral home."

"We did routine (medical) transports and we did removals, where we pick up dead bodies," he said. "Dead bodies are pretty heavy and a lot of the transports are difficult. This was like, back in the late '80s, so a lot of these apartments didn't have elevators."

When the call came in for someone who had died or someone who was particularly heavy and needed to be taken for medical care, the assignment often went to Wetzel.

"As a college football player, if there's somebody heavy, I'm getting sent to that one," he said, laughing.

Back then, he was 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighed 275 pounds.

"The 6-foot-3 part's still accurate. The other part's classified," he said, laughing again.

For Wetzel, who became an emergency medical technician while in high school in Myerstown, Pa., the job was much more than just the heavy lifting.

"It was a real interesting experience," he said. "You got to meet all kinds of interesting people. I'm a talker, so when we were transporting people, like the elderly, who oftentimes don't get to talk to a lot of people, I'd spend a lot of time talking to them."

Dr. Ruth Dwyer

Hagerstown pediatrician

president of the Washington County Medical Society

Ruth Dwyer was 18 and living in Iowa when she landed a job as a lifeguard/counselor at a small church camp called Paddy Run in Star Tannery, W.Va., "population, 25," Dwyer recalls.

She was Presbyterian and so was the camp, which needed a lifeguard even though its swimming pool only was 3 or 4 feet deep, she said.

"It was a little aboveground pool and regulations required they have a lifeguard," she said.

The job, which came the summer between high school and college, was fun and instructive.

"I actually think my experiences at camp really helped me," said Dwyer, 42. "It gave me communication skills."

Like what?

"Trying to figure out what's important and what's not," she said. "When you're a lifeguard and you're watching kids, at what point does horseplay become more dangerous? ... Yeah, they're up on each other's shoulders. It's probably time to pull them down."

Lt. Glenn Macher Jr.

one of three shift supervisors at the Martinsburg (W.Va.) Police Department

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