Worklife lessons

Gerald Koppes PHOTO CREDIT: contributed

Many years ago, a popular book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” claimed that many of life’s lessons were learned early in life, that the experiences gained and lessons learned in the first year of school prepared little ones for many of the challenges they would face later in life.

I don’t recall much of the classroom life with my kindergarten mates at Franklin Elementary School or our kindly spinster teacher, Miss Bessie McGraney, but I’m quite sure I wasn’t a fully formed little person at the end of that first school year.

The boxes Miss McGraney checked on my report card said I could tie my shoes and count to 10, but she put a worrisome question mark in the box indicating that I didn’t keep my hands off other children, surely an early indicator that a life of violent crime might be in my future.

There was a hopeful sign, however, as she closed the report with a neatly written comment that I was “A fine student,” the first and only time such words would appear in my academic records. So, even though I missed the first month with a bout of whooping cough when life’s first principles were most likely learned, there was a flicker of hope for my future.

In reality, the formative years of my life involved experiences gained while managing paper routes, first as a 10-year-old early morning carrier with the Des Moines Register and later on as an afternoon route with the Telegraph Herald. In both cases I was a young entrepreneur entering the work world with little preparation and no mentors.

Here are a few experiences that later influenced my adult work life.

Effort

Newspaper delivery is based on getting the job done every day, in all kinds of weather. If my customers were dissatisfied with my efforts, I quickly heard about it and many times, and my bosses let me know they, too, were aware of my shortcomings.

I had learned that time spent on the route didn’t equal work well done. So, too, in my professional life my supervisors expected assigned projects would be done well and on time. Clock watching wouldn’t get me to the finish line. If I wanted time off it was with the understanding that my work was completed.

Productivity

Paper carriers are at the pointy end of the newspaper publishing spear, where the product is delivered to the customer.

As a young lad I tried to finish my route as quickly and efficiently as possible. A bicycle purchased with an installment loan from the Western Auto store made the completion of the route much faster. Requests that papers be placed in convenient locations were honored. Collection times were arranged at the convenience of the customer.

This focus on productivity and attention to detail remained with me throughout my later employment.

Compensation

Payday was Saturday morning but only after the auditors (TH’s McAvoy and Skemp) scrutinized my collection book for accuracy and thoroughness. The week’s work having been completed, the happy carrier left with cash in his pocket and a visit to the local hobby shop on his mind. This same sense of accomplishment often was repeated later with my adult employers.

It’s been 70 years since I hesitantly walked with my mother into that imposing red brick school building on lower Bluff Street and was introduced to my new kindergarten classmates. I remember little of those formative days but I suspect it didn’t have the influence that the newspaper business had on my future work ethic.

It did, however, produce two lifetime buddies, friendships that I enjoy yet today. That’s good enough.