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Dad could have used collective bargaining
by Larry Wilson
Feb 21, 2011 | 611 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s push for legislation to eliminate collective bargaining for all state workers has sparked endless protests. One supporter of the governor’s action was filmed commenting that he didn’t pay taxes to be used for state workers’ retirement. He probably didn’t hesitate to send his kids to school so someone else could look after them or take his paid vacation, which teachers don’t get, or take his lunch hour or coffee break, which teachers don’t get either.

I always have lived the life of an educator. My parents were both teachers when I was young and as an adult I taught for 30 years.

Growing up, when my dad was in college, he worked nights in a gas station. My mom and I would take him a hamburger wrapped in wax paper for dinner. It was cold by the time he got around to eating it. There were no microwaves or fast food places in those days.

When dad graduated from college he got his first job teaching high school shop in Hot Springs, S.D., for $2,400 a year. That works out to about $50 a week. He also had to chaperon dances and athletic events for no additional pay. He even coached a junior varsity football team for very little money for a couple of years.

Dad wanted to belong to the local Lions Club, which met on Friday evenings. To be able to afford his membership, we had corn meal mush on Friday nights to save money.

Dad could not be seen going into the local pool hall, the community’s den of inequity, or he would be fired. It was the only place in town to buy a six pack of beer. He would have a friend come over infrequently under cover of darkness and deliver him a six pack of his favorite beer in a brown paper bag.

Dad had been in the infantry during World War II and was a good shot as a result. He would go hunting for deer in the fall. In those days the limit was two deer of either sex. Dad always brought home two deer. Dad and I went rabbit hunting one Sunday in the winter. He shot 50 cottontail rabbits. I was the “go-fer” for all 50 of those rabbits through the drifted snow. After we cleaned and froze them, we had fried rabbit, boiled rabbit and baked rabbit for the rest of the year. Dad was so frugal with his ammunition that he took a long while to agree to shoot a jack rabbit so I could see one up close. Dad also was a good fisherman and we always had fish to eat.

There was a woman teacher with my dad who taught home economics. She had never been married and my dad noticed after a while that she always stayed late after school. He figured out that she stayed late so she could eat. She would have the girls cook different dishes during the school day and after school she would eat the leftovers for her evening meal.

Before my mom married my father, she began her teaching career in a one-room school house in her home state of Nebraska. Her duties included starting the fire in the pot belly stove to heat the school, cleaning the snow out of the two outhouses, unsaddling the kids’ horses, fixing lunch, teaching school, playing janitor after school and seeing that the kids all left for home safely in the afternoon. After school, even though she was single, she was expected to live with a local family. She could not live with another single teacher. If she were to marry her employment was terminated.

Mom canned stew, jelly and jam, made bread and made laundry soap out of lye and anything else she could to conserve costs of operating the family. I lived in an attic that had been converted into a room of sorts. It was not fancy, but it was clean warm and dry and rather an adventure as a kid to call that your room.

Every summer, we went to Colorado State University (Colorado A&M in those days) where dad earned a Master’s Degree in Industrial Arts. We lived in a Quonset hut in an area of the campus called Vet’s Village. The first year we lived in a quarter of a Quonset hut, and after my two brothers were born we expanded to half of the hut. When dad graduated, he answered an ad on a bulletin board at the university about a teaching job in Reno.

The powers that be in Reno hired my dad over the phone. He would start at $5,500 a year. South Dakota was going to give him the princely sum of $3,200 a year. Although we had never seen Reno, we moved to the area in 1955.

Dad was not reimbursed for the move and never had a paid vacation, but he had almost doubled his income. Despite the fact that all I knew of Nevada was what I had seen on the news reels — mushroom clouds and sand — I didn’t want to move but my vote didn’t count.

Where was collective bargaining in those days? Who knows? My dad was just a teacher, after all, so who cares anyway?

Larry Wilson is a 50-year resident of Sparks and a retired elementary school teacher. He can be reached at
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