A long time ago, it seems like a whole lifetime ago, I was in college. I lived in the dorm my first year, and got a job at the college cafeteria in the spring and the summer. I stayed in town that first summer and moved in with a couple who were like parents to me. I biked all over this town to my jobs and to visit my friends. I worked for an old lady that had me doing everything she needed, from foot washing to housecleaning and cooking.
In the fall I qualified for work study hours and got a job in the Physical Science Dept with two professors that were a little younger then than I am now. One of them died this week with cancer. He was 68 years old.
I loved that job. I wasn't a very confident person in those days. The first months I spent learning my way around the lab cum classroom as I set up equipment for lab work and cleaned up when class was done. I made minimum wage and every two weeks I would go to the main science office and pick up my check and visit with the secretary or the head of the department.
As the years went by, it was easier to set up labs and they gave me more and more responsibility. I would supervise tests, sort and grade papers and enter grades into the grade book.
They would take the time to teach me about what they would teach the students in their lab classes I was setting up. If I had questions, they would answer them. They were never in a rush, and were always laughing and telling jokes. They weren't terribly picky about how tidy the storage area was, instead they would take my time teaching me physical properties.
They were a funny pair. They shared the same last name, but weren't related. One was shorter and chubby, one was tall and thin. They had a rapport which I imagine is hard to find among most professors. They worked 3o years together, about 15 before I came.
They did many things together, even outside the classroom. They had acreages, raised children and cows, and went to the same church.
The next summer they wrote me into a grant they received for a couple weeks of junior high science camp. I was lab assistant, girl's dorm mother, and the general "go to gal" for the kids and professors alike. I oversaw the equipment, bought supplies, supervised the kids, helped with the classes themselves and took a summer computer class at the same time.
Eventually, I felt confident enough to clean up the storage cupboard that was full of things never used. I threw away things we hadn't used in 2 1/2 years and suggested new items we needed, and washed and tidied the rest as best I could.
I did my student teaching that last semester of my senior year and spent very little time down in the basement where the science department was. But, after I graduated I had one more job with them. One of the professors became ill and was unable to go on the Outdoor Education class offered for elementary teachers in the summer. So, I went along to help. I packed all the equipment and myself for a 5 day workshop at a campsite near Cozad. Some of the things I did in that class I had always done, like setting up the activities and cleaning up after them. Some things, I had never done, like taking responsibility for some of the activities and participating when they needed an extra person. It was a fun 5 days, classes during the day and enjoying ourselves in the evening.
I gave that job my best and enjoyed those professors. I didn't see them much in the 25 years following my graduation, but living in Kearney, we crossed paths a few times and they always remembered me.
Today at the funeral the one professor introduced me as the "best lab assistant" they ever had. I'm not so sure about that, but I sure tried to be. They've never forgotten me, or the work I did there and I appreciate that. I've never forgotten them or those years I spent working for them.
It was some of the best years of my life.