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Martha Ryman - 20 March 1995 - A Lesson

During the years of World War II, 1941 through 1945, the Culver Public School closed for the summer in mid-May so the boys and girls who lived on farms could help with spring planting and other chores. Next to working in a munitions plant farming was considered vital war work. Those of us who did not live on farms or have close relatives who farmed began to notice that the closer we got to the mother´s conversations. I can imagine the ladies chatting over their Red Cross knitting and bandage rolling: Patty has a job in the library, Dorothy and Audrey will work in the store, Marilyn will help her dad in the office. Many of the local boys could attend Culver Summer School as day students, for very low cost, where they learned to sail, re-build engines, and play in the band. The rest of us, females, who had neither farm nor store, were able to fall back on CMA for menial and definitely low-paying jobs.

My summer job as a desk clerk at the Maxinkuckee Inn on the campus of CMA began one Saturday in early May, 1945. The manager showed me how to work the massive National Cash Register, open the Diebold safe and answer the ancient Western Electric plug-in switch board. He explained that only two of the Inn´s fifty rooms were occupied and those by some businessmen who were not associated with the Academy. He told me the cook would bring the dinner menu to me about five o-clock and I should type it making carbon copies, and with that he and his wife took off for lunch and shopping in a nearby town.

I had been in and out of the Inn all my life, for dinners and parties, but being alone behind the desk seemed very strange to me. I wanted to go sit on one of the couches in the lobby but I felt I must stay on the job behind the desk. The maids and maintenance people had finished their work in the morning and gone home right after their free lunch in the hotel kitchen. The kitchen help had all returned to Hibbard, where they lived, and would not be back until time to start dinner. I was the only employee in the hotel. The lake sparkled beyond the picture window and the giant wall clock ticked loudly. I had hours to go with very little or nothing to do.

Eventually the evening papers were delivered and I was enjoying arranging them on one end of the counter when a tall, distinguished looking man came across the lobby. He eagerly picked up one of each of the papers, three in all, and each one a different price. He extended a five dollar bill so while doing some lightening calculations in my head, I punched the "open" key on the cash register and the heavy oak drawer clanged out. I can see him now, papers under his left arm, slightly turned as if to leave, his right hand out for the change. I selected some coins and one dollar bills from the drawer and put them on his outstretched palm. I stood there smiling. He didn´t move but he suddenly seemed to be seven feet tall. With his blue eyes looking down a very straight nose at me, he said, "MY DEAR!" riveting me. (I´m glad I don´t remember how I looked; terrified, perhaps; foolish, probably.) He laid the papers on the counter, leaned forward and spread the money I´d given him on the counter. "How much are the papers?" he asked. I told him the amount and he proceeded, in a very kind and matter of fact tone, to show me how to count change. I was so chagrined when I realized I had shorted him seventy cents I hastened to open the cash drawer again and give him his full change, this time counting it out from purchase price up to the amount tendered just as he had taught me. He said, Thank you." I said "Thank you," and he walked away with a smile.

That night I gave Mother a full report on my first day on the job, including the change-counting lesson. She had a good laugh as she instantly recognized my teacher as one of Culver´s most distinguished visitors, Thomas J. Watson, the founder and president of IBM.