Marriage and Training with GE – 1958-1961
Camilla: So you were in your what, your early 20’s?
Jimmie: Let’s see, about 23. I graduated from Tempe in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree. Donna, my wife of 46 years, and I met at ASU. I was a sophomore and had a night class in U.S. History and she was a freshman. I thought she was real cute and I sat down by her. She wouldn’t talk to me. We finally had our first test and she beat me. So I approached her with “What did you put for the answer to this?” (Laughter.)
We continued to go to school and, after a while, went together steady. In the summer I’d go home to Casa Grande to work and we wouldn’t have any contact until we got back to school in the Fall. We got engaged when I was a senior. I graduated in May 1958 and we were married that November when I was 24. Donna graduated in the fall of 1959 with a nursing degree.
Camilla: Did you go back to Casa Grande?
Jimmie: No. During college I’d had a deferment and was enrolled in Air Force ROTC all the time I was at ASU. When I graduated, the Korean War was over and they were not interested in taking people into the service. So they gave me some options. I had a six year military obligation. One of the choices was to NOT get a commission. Instead, you went in for six months and went to boot camp. After that you had five and a half years of active reserve that meant you had to go one paid weekend a month and for two paid weeks in the summer for maneuvers. I didn’t plan to make the military a career so I chose that option. I went to boot camp in San Antonio, Texas.
When I finished boot camp, I interviewed with several different companies. At that time General Electric had a manufacturing plant in Phoenix that made computers. When I went to work for them they were on Peoria Avenue. They built a brand new building on Black Canyon Highway—which was a two lane road at that time—that is now where Honeywell’s facility is.
I was in a national training program called the BTC, Business Training Course. It was a three year program. Every six months they moved you from Accounts Receivable to Accounts Payable to Cost Accounting, etc. At the end of that program I was going to have to move out of state and I really didn’t want to. I was working all day and taking classes from my bosses as part of this program at night.
I was in my third phase of the program and some things happened that I haven’t really thought about in years. I got an education in ways I’d never dreamed about. I had worked for a fellow who had been with General Electric for 17 years. He was a subsection manager. I was hoping that, somewhere down the line, it was the kind of position I’d be in. Well, somebody came in as a section manager over him who had different religious beliefs. One guy drank a lot and the other didn’t drink, or didn’t drink much, but he was expected to party with his boss. I’m watching this thinking, “Nobody told me about this kind of stuff.” So when I learned about having to go out of state I interviewed to change jobs. I had an offer with Ortho, which was owned by Johnson & Johnson. I would have been a detail man calling on doctors and pharmacists. It was a good job opportunity, more money than I was making at GE. They furnished you with a car and expense account. I had found that I didn’t like sitting at a desk eight hours a day so I talked it over with Donna and decided to take that job.
Then my Dad came up to see us from Casa Grande. He had an opportunity to sell the cleaners. The people knew he was planning to go elsewhere. He was prosperous. My Dad, in his late 60s, asked me to go back into business with him. Donna had finished school and her parents were living in Mesa (she was originally from Peoria, Illinois). She and I came back to Casa Grande. Kerr’s sold Elite Cleaners and moved to where Warehouse Furniture [817 E. Florence Boulevard] is. My Dad liked to rent. This was our third location. We were in there as Kerr’s Cleaners in November of 1959. Dad and I were partners. We had employees that pressed and sewed. I handled the outside work. Having been here so long and my having grown up here, we had a good following and our business continued to grow with Casa Grande.
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Tape 1, side 2