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My Turn: A lifetime treat in a summer job

Michael 3, and William, 6, Corio, on a

Michael 3, and William, 6, Corio, on a sidewalk in Smithtown, getting service from Good Humor man Charles Deitch. (June 16,1973) Credit: Newsday/Mitch Turner

During the summers while attending college, I worked as a Good Humor man. This was in the mid-1960s, and the work rules were simple; as driver/salesmen, we worked seven days a week from Memorial to Labor Day, rain or shine. The Good Humor depot was located in North Lindenhurst, and every morning at 10, the vast fleet of white trucks, embossed with a large partially eaten chocolate-covered ice cream, gassed up and headed for their routes.

Our territory covered neighborhoods from the Hamptons to the Queens line. The day ended after 11 p.m. when the trucks returned and restocked for the next day. The day's receipts, bills with large bags of coins, were counted and turned in. Half the drivers were long-term employees, returning year after year. The other half were college kids whose ranks were thinned by attrition at summer's end.

Training consisted of one day's observation on a truck with an experienced driver. I don't remember seeing more than a half a dozen women drivers during the time I worked there. The uniform was white from top to bottom except for the blue bow tie and quasi-naval officer's hat. Both were methodically stuffed in the glove compartment at the first traffic light out of the depot.

The job was just like you remember seeing, a retail ice cream store on wheels at your doorstep. Seventy-five percent of the customers were children, and the remaining 25 percent were children with parents. Yes, there was free ice cream on your birthday, your choice, and no it was not that big of a risk. Only one quarter of my customer base was eligible, since the season lasted only three months. The entire block would turn out to verify the correct birthday for the correct kid. Toasted Almond, Chocolate Eclair, and Vanilla Good Humor, priced to sell at 15 cents, always sold the most, followed closely by the 5-cent Whammy Stix.

The job had unexpected benefits: fresh air, great suntan, and an exercise regimen generated by relentless bell jingling and climbing in and out of the truck a couple hundred times a day. The salary structure was attractive -- no hourly wage, pay was 100 percent commission-based. I earned 25 percent on all ice cream sold. And after joining the union, the commission jumped to 33 percent; and we were paid weekly by check. I gained an additional advantage by returning subsequent years; the longer I stayed, the better routes I received. I considered Good Humor the premier ice cream street vendor, but I always had plenty of competition; it was literally on the next street or around the corner. Bungalow Bar and Mister Softee were omnipresent and had their following. It was a long season, and, after awhile, every day seemed like an extension of the last. By Labor Day, I was ready to return to college.

Looking back over more than 40 years, this job offered a lot more than a good salary. I learned how to work independently, deal with people and handle money. I recognized the challenge of growing a business opportunity and realized early that customer service was vital to success. This oddity of a summer job offered invaluable work experience that resulted in a business education that lasted a lifetime. And I gained all this on those 15 cent sales.

As a postscript, I supplemented my summer earnings with a collage loan. Upon graduation, I owed $3,200 to a local Long Island bank and immediately began making monthly payments of $52.88. I continued making the payments for the next seven years. While it doesn't sound like a lot of money now, it was equivalent to a car payment, and there were times when the payments were difficult to make. After mailing the last check, my wife and I celebrated, and a month later we received a letter from the bank loan officer congratulating us and inviting us to lunch . . . on the bank!

--Louis F. Knecht, Jericho


A valuable '50s work ethic


Growing up in New York City during the '40s and '50s, I consider myself part of a "fortunate generation."

I had two parents who motivated me and instilled in me the importance of education.

After graduating high school, I was admitted to Hunter College, Bronx campus. Hunter is part of the CUNY system. Tuition for four years, leading to a baccalaureate degree was a total of $150, including texts.

Yes, I worked to pay this tuition. One week of part-time work or full-time summer employment more than paid for tuition for a semester at Hunter.

Sometimes, I had more than one job. Stock and delivery boy at several pharmacies, delivery boy for a florist, "soda jerk," the New York Yankee ticket office, Montgomery Ward, but mainly, the U.S. Postal Service for three years were a few of my jobs during college. Each of these jobs gave me a great work ethic which carried over to my professional life.

The $150 undergraduate degree was a golden passport to opportunities I would never have had. Today's generation certainly does not have the same availability of a great education at such a low cost.

--Coleman Kushner, Woodbury


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