Phone operators reconnect at reunion

Many remember the good old days, when you picked up a telephone receiver, a pleasant voice asked, Number, please. The helpful operator directed your call to the proper destination with without further ado.

There were no electronic voices recordings with options and directions to press this number or that, no instructions to return to the main menu if none of the options were suitable, no If you want to speak to a representative (meaning a real, live person) or Sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed.

Those days seem to be gone forever, but not the ladies who were the helpful, friendly telephone operators who helped us with our communication via telephones, often going above and beyond the call of duty.

On Monday, May 5, 38 of Vandalias finest telephone operators met in the Lincoln Room at Ponderosa Steakhouse in Vandalia for a reunion, the first get-together in 45 years.

As the ladies entered the room, greeting one another joyfully, a phrase heard frequently was the cut-over. They were referring to the day in August 1963 when dial phones replaced the operator.

A uniquely and unusually close group when they were all telephone operators, several commented on the fact that they really cared about one another and there was never any back-biting or arguing among themselves.

The look of joy at seeing one another as each one entered confirmed these statements. The concern for those not able to attend the reunion because of ill health further demonstrated the relationship these ladies shared.

Former operators Elloise (Oglesby) Black and Delila (Nobbe) Beckman decided they should have a reunion. A committee of Beckman, Bonnie Donnals, Joanne Pontious, Lorretta Nickels, Gloria Ledbetter, Annetia VanValey and Black set about making plans and preparations.

The fruits of their labors were evident as the room filled with 39 women, and the volume level of the conservation increased as they all greeted one another, caught up with each others lives and reminisced.

A registration book was laced at the base of telephone operator memorabilia, brought by Gloria Ledbetter. Included in the display was a doll representing an old-fashioned operator in the early days, complete with equipment, and large plaque, commending Ledbetter for 12,478 days of dedicated service or 34 years, two months and eight days.

There was also a check from Illinois Bell telephone Company dated Jan. 8, 1955, that represented her weeks wages. Total wages were $43.60, minus reductions for federal income tax ($5.51) and Social Security (87 cents), netting a total of $37.22 take-home pay.

Beckman called the meeting to order and started the program. Cards were passed around to be signed by all present to be sent to Iris (Chrisman) Morrison, Betty (Horton) Perry and Patty Banks, who are nursing home residents. All introduced themselves and gave an update on their lives since the cut-over. Most gave the number of years worked, from date started until the cut-over date.

A memorial time was observed as the names of the deceased was read: Betty Wright, Billie Robbins, Ruby Sills, Lenore Skidmore, Faye Orchatt, Lois Goodin, Carrie Brown, Sue Ewbanks, Marilyn Funk, Jeannie Fechner, Mary Dewald, Wanda Mahon, Clifteen (Ritchey) Canten , Jackie Thalman , Kate Isobell, Ruby (Walton) Farrington, Florence (Pug Walton) Dulger, Sarah Cullen, Agnes Waltz, Sharon Philpot, Sue Pruitt Hanley, Beverly (Jackson) Holbrook, Rochelle Hamilton, Jackie (Isbell) Tedrick, Wanda Isbell, Margaret mabry, Marian Robbins, Norma Griffith Brannon and Janet Peck.

The switchboard, and telephone operators, were located on Gallatin Street in downtown Vandalia, upstairs over what was then Murphys Dime Store, later renamed Carsons Dime Store.

Among the comments made by those attending were

Una (Telford) Funk We were the voice with a smile.

Judy (Johnson) Walker Connie (Ray) Eakin and May (Pearl) Stover would come to the CowBell, where I was a waitress, and I was so impressed with them and their job as operators.

Then, one day they offered me a chance to take the test to be an operator. Thanks to them, I was a telephone operator. It was the ultimate job for a woman at that time.

Walker also said that it was like going to a finishing school for her, as she learned to speak correctly and to dress correctly. The only time they could wear slacks was on the 5 p.m.11 p.m. shift.

Others agreed wholeheartedly that being a telephone operator was the ultimate job.

Beckman said the first thing she learned to do was to learn to print numbers by the companys standards. Another shared her memory of being warned they might have an overload of calls during the Cuba Missile Crisis when John F. Kennedy was president.

Other good memories included having lunch at Mr. Cains Walgreens just across the street; eating at Abe Lincoln Restaurant, also just across the street; Mrs. Cains homemade chili; Christmas gifts: delicious homemade candy from Julia Diveley and her daughters, Camilia, Genevieve and Vodith; Mr. Cain giving them gifts (billfolds, etc.), as did the Shulman brothers, with gifts of silk hosiery.

Pauline Deverick was the oldest operator present, and there were several who had worked more than 30 years.

Some transferred to another location when the cutover occurred here. Several went to work right out of high school. May Pearl Stover may hold the record with 37 1/2 years as a telephone operator.

All agreed those years were good years. Elloise Black suggested another Telephone Operators reunion, possibly annually. All seemed in agreement. Its good that the Voices with a Smile also hold good memories with a smile, and the closeness seems to have weathered the years and separations.

Leave a Comment