Former Ill. Bell employees hold reunion

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By Panzi Blackwell

The subject of this week’s Fayette Faces were once the “Fayette Voices” on which many citizens depended for communication via their telephone.

Many remember the days when one picked up the telephone receiver to hear a friendly voice asking, “Number, Please.”  Those days are gone, and probably often yearned for, in this age of almost unbelievable technology (at least to us who do remember the Illinois Bell telephone operators).
They were known as “The Voice With A Smile.”
The “voice” went silent 50 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1963, due to the conversion to the dial system at 2 a.m. that morning.
The competent and friendly service by the ladies behind the voices extended beyond their job descriptions, as they often went the extra mile in locating someone, such as a family member or friend, or if there was a need for assistance in an emergency situation.
They often knew where to reach a doctor if he was getting a haircut or on a coffee break at Cain’s Walgreens Drug Store, and they would notify the doctor of the call.
They were a friendly, helpful, caring group of gals, those Illinois Bell telephone operators.

Fifteen former Illinois Bell Telephone Operators from the Vandalia area gathered with other former Illinois Bell employees at the Vandalia Ponderosa for a reunion on Monday, May 6.
At that reunion, several vintage items were on display, including a photograph of the old business office that featured employees Mary DeWald, “Chuck” Young, Donna Chrisman and Sandy Grobengieser.  Notable in that room were the high ceiling and the old radiator that provided the heat.
There was also a photograph of a later business office with noticeable improvements.
Especially interesting and nostalgic was a photo of the switchboard before the dial system. Standing behind the operators was the late Clifteen Ritchey.  Also on display were old telephone books, including the first directory after the dial system was in effect. It was dated August 1963, and the cover displayed photographs of the Vandalia Statehouse and the new Bell building.
The Bell Operators and Employees
The operators present were Gloria Ledbetter, Bettye Kelly, Delila Beckman, Lorette Nickels, Edna Clymer, Donna Chrisman, Connie Eakin, Glenda Beyes, Pat Hagy, Judy Walker, Jean Reece, Bonnie Donnals, Ruby Funk, Dorothy Cole and Pat Anderek.
Other past employees present were Willie Smith, Arlene Smith, Bill Davidson, Ben Forbis, Ken Henry, Vince Cruthis, Ruth Jordan and Wally Bertram.  
Each person introduced themselves and shared a brief history of their service with Illinois Bell. Some shared memories, such as Christmas gifts given to all by Neil Donnals and the Dively family, and how they could tell the different coins by the sounds of them when deposited in the slots.
The reunion was warm and friendly, with much reminiscing and sharing of memories. It was decided to hold another reunion on the first Monday of May 5 of next year.