Workers old and new find common ground in labor
By Kari Andren and Kate Wilcox
Published: Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013, 9:39 p.m.
A street cop, witness to the good, the bad and the unspeakable, holsters his gun for the last time, staring retirement squarely in the eye.
A young police officer begins her career, hopeful, ambitious, but mindful of the tragedy that led her to the job.
A 91-year-old farmer takes a rare break from his work to talk about the only life he has known, a life his grandson has stepped into with youthful enthusiasm.
They are stories of careers ending and beginning, of 75 million Americans on the verge of retirement and countless young people entering the workforce, including 3.4 million recent college graduates.
On this day, as we pause to honor the American worker, we offer snapshots of these workers' beginnings and endings, their wisdom, their regrets and their hopes for the future.
Gazing at his family's lush, green acres, Duane Hartzell, 91, recalls 1927, when electricity reached his family's Butler County farm.
Nearby Slippery Rock State Teacher's College wanted electricity, so Hartzell's father brokered a deal to allow power lines on his land in return for electricity for the farm.
It was a catalyst for change.
But Hartzell laments all that was lost to change, including the camaraderie of neighbors helping neighbors, plowing and planting until well after sunset.
Farmers used to rely on horses to tend to hundreds of acres, but the end of World War II freed up metals needed to make farm machinery.
“Strangely enough, when we got (more equipment), we got bigger (but) .. it didn't change our hours,” Hartzell said.
The farmer's grandson
Dan Hartzell peers down a row of black-and-white dairy cows and waxes poetic.
“If you take care of them, they'll take care of you,” said Hartzell, 24.
The family's 175 cows graze in a breezy barn that cleans itself six times a day and has rubber mattresses for the cows' comfort.
His new Penn State University degree in animal science has allowed him to implement changes at the farm, including using a computer program with heat sensors that tracks when each cow is ready to breed.
Hartzell knows that no modern device can replace old-fashioned hard work.
“Farming isn't about getting a day off. It's doing the best you can with the skills you have (and) taking good care of our animals,” he said.
The veteran officer
For more than two decades, Keith Rosky has lived his dream as a police officer.
As a child playing amid the bustle of Jeannette's once-booming glass factories, he had visions of serving on the police force.
So he enrolled in the academy, then accepted a job with a small department.
But there was one glitch.
At 20, he was too young to register a gun in his name, so his dad stepped in to register the weapon for him.
Five years later, Jeannette called. For the next 25 years — until his retirement in August — Rosky patrolled the streets of his hometown.
“It's been a good job, a rewarding job. If I were to live my life all over again, I'd do the same thing,” said Rosky, who will turn 50 this year.
His only regret he said, is the loss of innocence that comes with the job: “It has taken a toll. ... You get to the point (that) you don't trust anybody.”
Growing up in Ambridge, Mandy Mudrick's life plan didn't include being a police officer.
Her dreams were of performing on Broadway.
She attended Youngstown State University and spent three years studying musical theater.
But everything changed in 2008 when a friend, a 20-year-old student at Robert Morris University, was shot while studying with his roommate and a female friend in an off-campus apartment.
Mudrick's friend and his roommate died. The woman survived but was paralyzed. The shooter is serving two consecutive life sentences.
“It was awful ... really hard to go through,” said Mudrick, 29.
From her sadness came her calling: “I feel like that motivated me to do this job.”
She earned a degree in criminal justice and attended Beaver County's police academy.
Today, she's a rookie with Belle Vernon-based Southwest Regional Police Department, patrolling five communities in Washington and Fayette counties.
It's not the life she planned, but she can't imagine it any other way, she said.
Times were different when Beverly Tomich stepped into her first classroom in 1972.
On steamy September days, teachers propped open school doors. Parents came and went as they pleased.
Then schools became targets and administrators began to lock the doors.
The curriculum is tougher, she said, even for the first-graders she most recently taught.
“You teach them to tie their shoes, then teach them about adjectives,” said Tomich, 63, of Sutersville, who retired in June from Yough School District.
Students' problems at home are more intrusive, too, she noted.
She recalled one boy who approached her because his mother was in drug rehab. And she can't shake the thought of two students who died as a result of drug overdoses long after they'd sat in her classroom.
Even now, “I think of them as wee, little guys.”
The young teacher
Kate Huffman couldn't wait to meet her students at the start of her first year as a full-time teacher in Greensburg Salem School District.
The Scottdale native had wanted to teach since she was 4, when she arranged dolls and stuffed animals to teach them the ABCs.
She went to college, made good grades and got her degree ... then she waited, serving as an intern and substituting for three years.
While her mission as a teacher will not change, Huffman notes, she must be flexible in an evolving workplace to be successful.
“I'm learning to expect the unexpected and to embrace change,” she said.
The veteran nurse
For more than four decades, Joanne Gibson has nursed the young, the old and the dying.
So when health issues led her doctor to suggest that she quit her job in UPMC Passavant, Gibson, 64, of Evans City had a simple response: “We will have nothing about quitting.”
She was 18 when she decided she could best help people by becoming a nurse.
Back then, nurses wore white uniforms and crisp, white caps. A back surgery meant you'd stay in the hospital for two weeks, not 24 hours.
While those things have changed, the patients' needs have not.
“When you walk in that room, the patient is scared,” she said. “They don't know what they're facing. They need you to be their advocate.”
The new nurse
Fresh from nursing school, Kimberly Seskey of Dormont knows her education is just beginning.
“Nursing is a job of experience,” she said. “You learn so much, but you don't learn it all until you have first-hand experience.”
At 23, she is gaining her experience in UPMC Shadyside, where Seskey has worked for nine months on the surgical oncology floor.
She sees cancer patients making progress, hitting roadblocks, rebounding; she learns a little more each day.
“I love learning,” she said, already planning to get her master's degree.
She believes she has mastered a vital lesson.
“That caring and compassionate aspect of nursing is a little bit overshadowed because of everything else that goes on,” she said. “Getting to know your patient is such an important piece of nursing.”
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