My first job

Tulsans recall the ups and downs of their earliest gainful employment.



Your first paycheck might have been earned for throwing newspapers, flipping burgers, lifeguarding, working in the family biz or another minimum-wage gig, but it mostly likely involved paying your dues and learning the value of that hard-earned dollar. Here, Tulsans recall the ups and downs of their earliest gainful employment.



G.T. Bynum — ​Mayor of Tulsa 

Courtesy

My first job was: as a maintenance man at what was then called The Commons on Lewis Avenue (now called Chateau 68) at 68th and Lewis. As the low man on the pole, my job was to do what the other guys on the maintenance crew didn’t want to do. Lots of sweeping, picking up trash and hedge trimming.

I was: 16.

The best part of the job was: the other guys on the crew. They were hilarious, had great stories and could fix just about anything. One of them had this clunker truck that he refused to trade in. It was just ancient — sky blue with rusty bullet holes in the side of it. One day the engine caught on fire during his drive to work, but he didn’t pull over. He kept driving and made it into the parking lot with the engine on fire, and managed to extinguish it with a fire extinguisher we kept in the maintenance shop. By the end of the day, he finally conceded it was time to trade it in. I wanted to buy that truck so badly, but I couldn’t afford it. I hadn’t saved up enough yet that summer (it was for sale for about $1,200). The one that got away.

The worst part was: dead animal detail. That was one of the jobs the other guys didn’t want to handle so it rolled downhill to me. There were a lot of cats in that complex, and I usually had to dispose of a couple every week. 

Lessons I learned on the job: Probably the greatest lesson was just the pride that comes in fixing something that is broken, in cleaning up a space so it looks nice for the people who live there. And what a disgusting nuisance cigarette butts are. All the cigarette butts that people threw out their car windows on Lewis would end up in the bar ditch in front of the complex, and it fell to me to clean them up. You can’t sweep those up because they’re too small. So I had to pick up every single one by hand. To this day, when I see someone thoughtlessly toss a cigarette out a car window it makes me angry because I think of the person who is going to have to clean it up.

LISTEN NOW: G.T. Bynum talks data-driven decisions making on the Tulsa Talks podcast.

 



Marilyn Ihloff — Owner, Ihloff Salon and Day Spa

Greg Bollinger

My first job was: a summer civil service job working for the U.S. Bureau of Mines (now the U.S. Department of the Interior) in Bartlesville. My duties were to file well logs in the giant basement filing area. These were paper files as there were no digital files in 1964. 

I was: 17.

The best part of the job was: I got to dress professionally and had great supervisors. It was the first job other than babysitting and odd jobs that I had. My uncle worked in the lab at the Bureau of Mines and found out about the summer position. Even though the summer job was an entry-level one, I still had to sit for the Civil Service exam before I could even interview. That was an interesting experience.

The worst part was: I was working while my friends were at the pool.

Lessons I learned on the job: That hard work and respect for co-workers and supervisors is rewarded. In order to avoid getting too bored with the repetitive duties of the job, I developed my own little prep system and organized the files on the cart by their destination areas. I also worked to be efficient with my time and understand the scope of the tasks. I got so efficient that I had time on my hands and ended up reorganizing the office area and also the office supply closet. I very much liked the two full-time employees I worked with, but they did take me aside one day and asked that I hold back because they would still be there after I left and didn’t need more duties.



Monique Washington — Co-owner, Physiques by Monique

Washington: Courtesy

My first job was: working as a hostess at a restaurant in Eastland Mall called Garfield’s. I had to memorize the table numbers so I could seat our customers without overseating a server in a certain section. I answered the phone, helped bus tables and maintained the cleanliness of the front of the restaurant. 

I was: 16.

The best part of the job was: I was the youngest person on staff, so it was fun working with people in their 20s. I loved working there in the summertime because I had a lot of hours.

The worst part was: Nothing. I loved everything about that job.

Lessons I learned on the job: I learned how to interact with customers, how to communicate with others on staff, problem solving, and it also taught me accountability. My parents wouldn’t let me work during the week because of school and track practice. I’ll never forget after working there for a year, I went to my manager and asked if I could have a raise. I walked out of her office with a huge smile on my face because she gave me a quarter more an hour. That put me at a whole $4.50 an hour. I was living the dream.

 

READ NOW: Washington answers the question, "How should someone new to working out get started?"



Don Thornton — Owner, Don Thornton Automotive Group

Don Thornton // Courtesy

My first job was: in Wilmington, North Carolina. The summer after my senior year of high school, I worked for the classified ad manager at the Wilmington Morning Star (now called the Wilmington Star News). They needed someone to pick up the car dealers’ ads. I had a few grocery stores and Belks, too. I did it and loved it. Most car dealerships were downtown. I would ride the bus out there and would see the sales manager. We’d walk the lot and see what cars he wanted to advertise. I’d write the copy for the ad and take some pictures. That was the beginning of my career in the auto business. I made 40 cents an hour at the newspaper.At the same time, I had another job as a lifeguard at Wrightsville Beach. There I made $5 a day, which was a lot of money.

I was: 17.

The best part of the job was: going to the dealerships. My folks had never had a new car because they couldn’t afford a new one. We always had used cars. So to walk in and see the shiny new cars on the floor … The sales manager would sometimes let me drive a car around the block. I’m often asked what was my first new car and it was a 1957 Chevy. I didn’t get my first new car until after graduating from the University of North Carolina while I was in flight school in the Air Force.

The worst part was: rejection. I didn’t have any sales training. We had four used car dealerships. When I’d go in and say, “I’ve designed these ads for you …” The worst part was when they’d say, “Business has been slow. I don’t have the money to advertise this week.”

Lessons I learned on the job: Good advertising works. The neatest part was when I’d write an ad and call the dealership afterward and ask if it pulled in some traffic. The sales manager at Billy Black Cadillac would always call me and tell me, “That damn ad worked,” or if he thought we’d missed the mark. 

 



At 16 I started at Stein Mart at 51st and Harvard in the accessories and men’s departments. Kind older gentlemen would walk in and ask me to pick out their clothes since they “had no clue,” which is funny because I clearly didn’t either as a 16-year-old. I’ve always loved working, and enjoyed my time there. 

— Kim Kuehler, concessions sales manager, Tulsa International Airport


I was a houseboy (cleaned up stuff) in Saudi Arabia, when I was 13. It paid in riyals, so converted to dollars it was about 10 bucks an hour in 1979. Trash does not smell good at 120 degrees, by the way. I was using the money to buy an enlarger for my darkroom. We were there because my dad was working for the Corps of Engineers as a geologist. 

— Tom Gilbert, chief photographer and beer blogger, Tulsa World


I started working at Skateland when I was 14. I’d still do that job if I could afford to live on teenager wages for the rest of my life. I still love to skate, and I do it as much as possible. I take my family to Skateland as much as I can, although it isn’t quite the same as back when I could skate into the office/DJ booth and choose the next song.

— Leanna Reeder, public relations professional


I worked for Braniff Airlines in the Lima, Peru, airport. I worked in accounting and translated and even interpreted with what British English I knew. They were looking for bilingual students and came to our high school and selected three of us. I worked there only a year because I moved to the U.S.

— Tina Peña, associate professor of Spanish, Tulsa Community College

READ NOW: Peña, along with other locals, satisfy their grocery lists with Tulsa Farmers' Market finds.


As a 16-year-old student at Nowata High School, I was hired as a window trimmer and worked in all departments of McCrory-McClellan Five and Dime in downtown Nowata. I priced stock in the basement stockroom, learned to cut window shades in the hardware department and worked the cash register, where we had to make change manually. I changed the window displays every few weeks, first cleaning the plate glass with only alcohol, which I hated because it was so hard to get them streak-free. Setting up the display of dishes was hard because of the glass shelves that had to be balanced or disaster ensued. 

— Connie Cronley, TulsaPeople columnist


I got paid for farm work and kept my own money for selling and hauling firewood. My first job when I was 16 was at Subway making sandwiches. It was back when you had to cut a V in them. My 5- and 8-year-old boys think I still make a pretty good sandwich.

— Andrew Storie, self-employed artist, farmer and teacher


I worked at the Wendy’s in Bartlesville the summer after I turned 16. With my name, they were probably afraid not to hire me. I started working the salad bar and worked my way all the way up to cashier at the drive-thru window.

— Wendy Thomas, executive director, Leadership Tulsa


I worked at my uncle’s meat market at age 15. I worked the register and stocked shelves and avoided the meat freezer in the back at all costs as to not subject my eyes to the deer that met their demise.

— Ginny Hensley, vice president of communications, Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa

READ NOW: Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa helps homeless veterans find housing.


I was 16 and got a job flipping burgers at the brand new Burger Street opening at 21st and Harvard. Minimum wage was $3.35, which is what I got paid. I worked there about a year, but left the following summer to work at Godfather’s Pizza because they paid a whopping $3.50 an hour.

Those were good jobs for high-school kids in those days. You made enough to put gas in your car, pay your car insurance, have a little spending money, and you got an employee discount on the fast food you would be eating regularly anyway.

— Ed Sharrer, Destination Districts program manager, INCOG

Read more about Sharrer and his groundbreaking work in Kendall Whittier here and here.


At age 11 I was straight-commission selling University of Tulsa programs on 11th Street at football games and selling soda at Oiler Park. I learned to yell, “lucky number programs” and “ice cold pop.” I got the soda-selling job by hanging out at the ballpark. I would ride my bike there and hang out all day. They had to hire me to do something.

— Michael Patton, executive director, Land Legacy


We grew up performing as a family, playing the violin and singing for churches, retirement homes, weddings, etc. It was a lot of work but always seemed like a great way to make money. My first “real” job was working at Freddy’s Frozen Custard in Wichita a couple summers during college — at one of the original locations, where Freddy himself would come and visit.

— Tara Rittler, web and social media editor, TulsaKids Magazine

READ MORE: Rittler reveals more Wichita charms and gems.

 

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August 2019

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
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Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

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Senior Star Round-Up - August 18 - Cain's Ballroom - 2 to 5 p.m. The annual Senior Star Round-Up is Sunday, August 18, at the Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main Street in Tulsa. This popular...

Cost: $10

Where:
Cain's Ballroom
423 N. Main St.
Tulsa, OK
View map »


Sponsor: Senior Star Living
Telephone: (918) 664-9000
Contact Name: Emily Fox

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BROKEN ARROW COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE Presents “The Wizard of Oz” (R.S.C.1987) By L. Frank Baum With Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg Background Music by...

Cost: $22-$25

Where:
Broken Arrow Community Playhouse
1800 S Main St
Broken Arrow, OK  Broken Arrow
View map »


Sponsor: Broken Arrow Community Playhouse
Telephone: 918-258-0077
Contact Name: 74012
Website »

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Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
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You're invited to our new store Grand Opening Celebration in Broken Arrow, August 21st for an all day event! As you know, this year marks our 30 year anniversary of serving business minded...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stow's Office Furniture
3604 S Elm Place
Broken Arrow, OK  74011
View map »

More information

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Sign up now for the Tulsa Area United Way's 9th Annual Golf Scramble – a local tradition that pairs an enjoyable morning of golf with helping your community.

Cost: $400 per team

Where:
LaFortune Park Golf Course
5501 S Yale Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74135
View map »

More information

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

  The biggest sporting event in history for Broken Arrow is set to happen on Friday, August 23rd. The event will take place outside in Downtown Broken Arrow near the intersection of...

Cost: $52.00

Where:
Downtown Broken Arrow
The intersection of Commercial and Main streets
Broken Arrow, OK
View map »


Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Wings, Wheels & Wishes is a fly-in, car and bike show benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oklahoma in loving memory of Collinsville Wish Kid, Bill Campbell. Our event features vintage...

Cost: Free to the public

Where:
Airman Acres Airport
12600 N. 73rd E. Ave.
Collinsville, OK  74021
View map »


Telephone: 918-510-3423
Contact Name: Cindi Conner
Website »

More information

  Our 17th Annual CimTel Classic 5K is August 24, 2019! The registration begins at 6:30am and the race begins at 8am at Cleveland High School 600 N Gilbert Cleveland, OK. The entry fee is $25 for...

Cost: 25.00

Where:
Cleveland High School
600 N Gilbert
Cleveland, OK  74020
View map »


Sponsor: CimTel
Contact Name: Allee Pearson
Website »

More information

Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: (405) 236-3100
Website »

More information

Maker Faire Tulsa is an award-winning, family-friendly event celebrating technology, education, science, arts, crafts, engineering, food, sustainability, and making of all kinds. The 7th...

Cost: Free

Where:
Central Park Hall at Expo Square
1701 S Sandusky Ave
Tulsa, OK  74112
View map »


Sponsor: Fab Lab Tulsa
Telephone: 918-779-6025
Contact Name: Nathan Pritchett
Website »

More information

Maker Faire Tulsa is an award-winning, family-friendly event celebrating technology, education, science, arts, crafts, engineering, food, sustainability, and making of all kinds. In 2019, Fab Lab...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Central Park Hall @ Expo Square
4145 East 21st Street
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »

More information

Bobby O’s Slices + Pies, located in the Meadow Gold District along Route 66, will host a day of meal deals, merchandise giveaways, and kids activities for their Back-to-School Bash. The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bobby O's
1502 E. 11th St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Sponsor: Bobby O's
Telephone: 918-586-2455
Website »

More information

Oh, Tulsa is a Living Arts biennial that celebrates visual, performance, literary, sound, video, and installation art for the Tulsa community. Eligible work includes: Tulsa residents, artists who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Living Arts of Tulsa
307 East M. B. Brady St.
Tulsa, OK  74120
View map »


Telephone: 918-585-1234
Website »

More information

America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
View map »


Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
Website »

More information

DIVAS JUMP THE POND - THE BRITISH INVASION!! DIVAS 4 H.O.P.E. features live music from Tulsa’s diverse local artists along with cocktails, dinner, and one-of-a-kind live and silent auction...

Cost: $15,000 - $250

Where:
Assembly Hall - Cox Business Center
100 Civic Center
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: Health Outreach Prevention Education, Inc.
Telephone: 918-688-5022
Contact Name: Kathy L Williams
Website »

More information

Help DVIS and the Tulsa Drillers knock out violence! We are in our 16th year of raising funds for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Join us by pledging per home run or making a...

Cost: $1+

Where:
Tulsa, OK


Sponsor: DVIS
Telephone: 918-508-2709
Contact Name: Jenée Day
Website »

More information

Show More...
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