The first paying job I ever got was playing the pipe organ for Sunday church services at the North Dakota State Mental Institution. My father was the head chaplain there, and was in charge of finding an organist to play for the two services each Sunday, one Protestant and one Catholic. I secretly believe that his early encouragement of my musical endeavors on the piano, beginning in second grade, was because of his constant search for accompanists. Dad was looking ahead for a semi-permanent employee. Grooming, it is called these days.
Dad had an extremely difficult time finding and retaining organists. Many people were afraid of entering the hospital grounds. In addition, because the hospital itself was several miles outside of town, it took extra effort to get there. Consequently, the pay for the two and a half hours on a Sunday morning was outrageously high. I was the lucky recipient of the state’s largess. This was 1965, I was 12 years old, and I made $10 per hour, so I always had lots of spending money throughout my junior high and high school years. Some days however, if Dad was elsewhere on a Sunday morning, I had to take a taxi to work. The ride cost $0.35 and I was unhappy to lose that large chunk of my paycheck.
Between the two services was half an hour of transition time for the Protestant patients to file out and the Catholic patients to file in. My assignment during that break was to go behind the big circular rotating stage and crank the handle 100 times until the Catholic altar was facing the nave of the church and the Protestant altar was hidden.
In 2016 I celebrated 50 years as a church organist. I continue to be the organist at the Blairsburg United Church of Christ (in winter) and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Soudan, Minnesota (in summer). I am aiming for 75 years! I also play for weddings, funerals, and give piano lessons sporadically.
I got my second job the summer before tenth grade. I applied for the job as an ice cream scooper in an unorthodox way. I was traveling in Europe with my aunt and uncle as a babysitter for their three young children. I decided to send my prospective boss a postcard from Paris, asking if I could work at his ice cream shop upon my return to North Dakota. A month later, I brazenly walked into the shop, introduced myself, and asked about my job status. He said, “You’re hired!” and I worked there until I left for college. My friends were overjoyed that I scooped ice cream because they were usually the recipients of my “mistakes.”