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Writer Wednesday: Jobs that got me my first real job

June 19, 2013

How do you figure out your calling, your passion in life?

My sister, who is a nurse, found her calling through having appendicitis as a child. The experience of being in the hospital—scary or distasteful for some—left her awestruck and with an image of her as a nurse in a white uniform and a little white nurse’s cap with a black stripe. An old image for sure, but it got her adrenaline going then and she still loves her job today (now partially retired).


My oldest sister “Nancy Nurse,” who was once featured on the front
of the employee newsletter of her hospital which included this lovely picture.

For me it was a trip with the “Sunshine Girls Club” (for real!) from North Goshen Mennonite Church to tour the Chicago Tribune that got my blood pumping. I loved seeing the workings of a big city daily newspaper—the desks, the typewriters, the smartly dressed women in high heels (this was the late 50s or early 60s) and people dashing around like they had important deadlines. I tried to see if there were any young copy boys or copy girls. I had read the youth-reader type book Copy Girl describing the duties of a “common position at many papers in those days, of a younger worker who is a typically young and junior worker on a newspaper,” according to Wikipedia:

“The job involves taking typed stories from one section of a newspaper to another. Reporters typed their stories on slips of butcher’s paper…then a copy boy ran the story into the neighboring [editor] room, hence the cry of  ‘copy’. Each slip of the story had about six carbon copies…stapled together and it was the job of the copy boy – or girl – to separate the original and run it …”

HuffPost Canada ran a piece last year about an award-winning journalist, Michael Ignatieff, and eventual professor and politician who started out as a copy boy. Interestingly, since the job is now archaic, there are no books on Amazon that look like they have anything to do with a copy girl, unfortunately.

Melodie Miller and Rodney Maust as business managers for the Bethany yearbook, The Witmarsum.

Working on my high school yearbook The Witmarsum,
as a business manager (um… yeah … not exactly my career aspiration)
. With Rodney Maust.

Anyway, I never was a copy girl but I began earning my writing creds in the years after I was first inspired by seeing the Chicago Trib in action, on a career path that I can trace only in retrospect. Who would have known that:

  • An assignment writing about youth group activities for our church newsletter at North Goshen Mennonite where I tried to be a little bit creative rather than just reporting that the youth group had a car wash or a bake sale—got the attention of (at least) the pastor’s wife, Martha Krabill …
  • When her son, James Krabill, was looking for staff as editor of the school paper, The Reflector at Bethany Christian High School, Martha suggested to James that maybe I would make a good writer for him. James asked me to do a column of profiles of senior class members, which led to …
  • At Eastern Mennonite University, one of my high school and church friends, Chuck, recommended my name to the college newspaper, The Weather Vane. I well remember my first article writing about students who had done interesting things over the summer, and I was still writing in high school newspaper informal style. I’m sure the feature editor, Gretchen Hostetler Maust was aghast at my first attempt but she soon brought me up to speed …
  • Eventually I was asked to serve as editor of the college yearbook my senior year, The Shen (the request arrived by telegram when I was studying in Spain, how quaint, they were desperate), which I turned down for fear of being too busy. But a smaller job as co-editor of the college literary magazine, The Phoenix, sounded like something I could manage …

Dorcas Kraybill and Melodie Miller Davis, Phoenix co-editors

Dorcas Kraybill and me working on The Phoenix my senior year of college.

  • Along with a work-study job my senior year of college at WVPT-TV, the public broadcasting station in Harrisonburg where one of my first days I had to run a studio camera when they were short a camera person to tape a local public affairs show. That day I was introduced to the prettiest string of foul language my young Mennonite ears had ever heard when one of us failed to move the camera at the right time. The *&^%$ was piped directly into my ear from the director. I learned a lot of better things on that job which impressed my future employer on my resume—at least that is what I heard from him later …


Tear sheets from The Weather Vane.

  • The experiences in college also gave me many tear sheets (official published pieces of writing) that I submitted as a portfolio with my application for my first job out of college at (then) Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. There was a secretarial opening that I was applying for, but I wanted them to know I was interested in moving into writing positions. …

Which I did, and still am moving in to various writing/editing positions for 38 years now. I began July 7, 1975, about one month after graduating from EMU.

I could go on, but this is long enough. A couple weeks ago I wrote about some of the odd jobs I did along the way, and when I was done with that post, I realized oh! I didn’t even include the jobs (mostly unpaid) that actually took me to a job I continue to enjoy and that gets my adrenaline going almost every day.

Oh, and P.S., I still write volunteer articles for our church newsletter, The Nous at Trinity Presbyterian (sample here reused in Another Way, which originally appeared in The Nous).

What influenced you most in pursuing the job you have or aspire to?  If you are currently a stay-at-home mom or dad what led to that decision and role and how do you feel about it?

What if you never have an adrenaline rush about work? How can hobbies fill that role?


An earlier post also talks about some of my early published works.


From → Faith, Writing Life

  1. Pert Shetler permalink

    Never knew all the steps before to you becoming a writer…very interesting.

  2. … I’d like to see a blog post sometime on your many jobs along the way … looking for photos for this I found you dealing with pizzas when you did deliveries, and you on a golf cart … remember? Then there was the animal shelter ….

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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