As I observe the slow decline in American values, especially as that relates to work ethic, values and goal achievement, I have often thought of the people who taught me how to work, how to take responsibility, and how to deal with most situations that arise in life. Years ago the expectation was that all of us had to work, and all of us had to earn what we wanted, and needed, at times. That may no longer be generally true.
As I observe the slow decline in American values, especially as that relates to work ethic, values and goal achievement, I have often thought of the people who taught me how to work, how to take responsibility, and how to deal with most situations that arise in life. While my family, Mom and Dad especially, were responsible for the day to day development that resulted in the person I have become, it was also their willingness to allow me to apprentice to a variety of people, doing multiple types of work, in a variety of situations that taught me how to work, and how to use that work to learn about much of life. (This piece is not about me, even though I will use myself as the source of the examples given. I really only know my own life). If not that, what is it about? It is about my belief that learning to work, and learning to grow from that experience, is no longer part of the American experience. Otherwise how could it be that 47% of Americans prefer to live off handouts, rather than work at any job, for any amount of money, and develop a sense of accomplishment? Actually the reason may be simpler than we think. Why work when the government has programs that take care of you?
Why was it that people of my generation, and those before me, refused to take government handouts, and preferred to reply upon themselves, family and friends? It was understood that each person was responsible for him or herself. Pride and culture also played a great part in the unwillingness to accept handouts or charity. [See “Blood of My Blood”, Richard Gambino, Anchor Books, NY, 1974] Perhaps the mentors of my generation do not any longer exist. If they do exist they may actually be arrested for not having government approval to mentor.
What I have written here is much of what our children chide us about. You know, the “Yea, we know you shoveled snow each day just to get to school” accompanied by rolled eyes, as we try to tell them that things really were different – perhaps even better years ago. Years ago the expectation was that all of us had to work, and all of us had to earn what we wanted, and needed, at times. I use these vignettes because they are real, and they have helped to mold a life. There are many others with similar experiences who are what they are today because of similar experiences they have had.
Shining shoes for a nickel a shoe at 10 years old was neat. I earned a dime each pair, plus an occasional tip. Shining shoes was dirty work because the polish was slapped on with your bare hand, brushed off, then polished with a polishing rag. The dirty hands were a reminder that I earned that money, and got dirty doing it. I learned to be polite to customers in the chair, and to do a good job if I wanted a tip. I also learned that the fellow, Tony, who owned the shoe repair shop where I “worked”, always had his eye on me, and let my Dad know how I was doing.
My next job represented a “move up”. When I was 11, I got a job – actually my dad got the job for me – at “Bake” Bonazinga’s Italian bakery after school. The bakery was on my way home, so I walked from school to the bakery each day. All the jobs no one else wanted were mine, like cleaning the rotary arm mixer using a single edge razor blade, because the dry dough had to be scrapped off. I also helped load the freshly rolled loaves of bread into the proofing boxes, and then after some time, helped Bake put them in the over. Actually, he put them in the oven; I put them on his paddle. The hardest work was getting bags of flour from storage. I basically failed to move many bags as they were too heavy. Bake just smiled, and gave me another job that needed to be done. Often that job was running to Albanese’s Italian market down the street for a pound of butter, or some Salame, to have with a loaf of freshly baked bread once it cooled a little. What did I learn at the bakery – aside from some very rudimentary bread baking skills? I learned that doing a good job was not easy, and if the job were not done well, guess what? You did it over again. I also learned that even though my bosses were tough on me, they were kind, and never really pushed me too hard - just hard enough to learn a lesson. That I realized much later in life.
One of the most exiting jobs I ever had was delivering bottles of milk house to house. The job started at 3:30 AM when Kenny Z. picked me up at our house in his black pickup truck. We drove to Coleman’s dairy to pick up all the milk to be delivered on that run. Up to the time to deliver the bottles fo milk, I sat in the cab. Once we got to a neighborhood, I stood on the running board, holding a handhold on the back of the cab. I was so proud of that as well as when I finally mastered the art of holding two bottles of milk in each hand! The job was hard because as soon as Kenny stopped the truck I had to grab the milk, run up to the door step, leave the milk, and get back on the running board so I would be ready for the next delivery. All this had to be done before 8:30 AM when school began. Once at school I often fell asleep. Fortunately the nuns knew that I delivered milk, and they let me nap for a half hour or so. In that job Kenny taught me to work hard, laugh a lot, and don’t be afraid. I will never forget Kenny, especially since he was killed – in that same truck - when someone ran a stop sign, and broadsided him. He died instantly. I was 12 years old, and learned that life could be good, but terribly sad at the same time.
Connecticut is known for growing and harvesting its shade grown tobacco. These expensive leaves served as wrappers for fine cigars. I applied for a summer job at the “Tobacco Farms” and got hired. At 5:30 AM, the bus picked me up on the corner. We drove 1.5 hours to the farms, unloaded and started picking. Picking was done under the netting that provides the shade, sitting on your behind in the middle of two rows. Each hand picks a plant on each side, and you scoot forward on your behind to the next plant. The picked tobacco was placed on the ground in a small pile and a fellow known as a dragger picked it up. It was not a fun job, but paid well – $.50/hour. After my best friend – still that today – and I became the fastest pickers on the farm, our pay was raised to $0.75/hour. I contracted Tobacco Rash – an allergic response to the tobacco juice that poured off the damp leaves first thing in the morning. My Mom wanted me to quit, but I refused, and told her to buy me some long sleeved sweat shirts. That worked, but the sweatshirts had to go once the afternoon sun came out. The fellow who ran the crews was a bona-fide SOB. He was also a coach at my High School. What did I learn from him and from this job? That I could stand anything, work with any SOB, and still beat him at his own game. Without knowing it he taught me to never quit, and never to give up. (Actually maybe he did know that, but I will never get a chance to ask him.)
These jobs were followed by many others: Clothing salesman at a local men’s clothing store, Summer intern at Celanese Chemical Company, Trucker at Cuno Filter Company, auto parts delivery guy, dishwasher at a local restaurant, dishwasher at college in the chemistry lab (guess I was good at dish washing), student teacher, tutor, Graduate Assistant, Research Chemist, Therapist, Corporate Executive, President, CEO, Woodworker and now Winemaker. Each position taught me how to handle problems, people, regulations, politics, long hours, supervisors who were not terribly talented, and much, much more.
As I look back on how much my parents taught me to fish rather than giving me a fish, I can see now that they were not only good parents, but also wise ones. If they were parents of children today, it would not surprise me if someone reported them to a Welfare Agency for allowing me to work such “dangerous” jobs. Additionally, today I would learn in school that I could report my parents to the Welfare State for “making” me work such dangerous jobs. I would learn today that it was the responsibility of my parents to care for me, to provide for me, and to allow me to “enjoy life”, rather than to spend it working, and thereby learning how to survive, and prosper.
The fact that I have had such tremendous opportunities in life is the direct result of being allowed to earn my way to adulthood, to be proud of that, and the fact that I learned to believe in myself. I also learned that there was little I could not do, if I wanted to so it. Failure was always an option, but it is possible to fail, and to start again, and be successful.
This life is too short to spend it afraid. I think Teddy Roosevelt said it better than I can say it:
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
B.S. Degree: Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut - MAGNA CUM LAUDA Ph.D. Degree: Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa,National Institute of Health Fellow: Major,
Winemaker & Co-Owner - De Angelis Wines.
Responsible for winemaking, marketing, and organization along with my partner - my wife.
Winemaker and General Manager
The Crush @ Paso Robles, Paso Robles, CA. Responsible for overall design of winery, winemaking budgets, planning and overall organization.
Senior Winemaker Salisbury Vineyards
I was responsible for all winemaking activities. This included developing the winery sites, identifying and purchasing all supplies and equipment, as well as assistance in all financial and budgetary aspects of the winery.
Viticulturist and Winemaker - La Fattoria De Angelis
Planted the vineyard in 1999 and have maintained it ever since. The first wine from the vineyard was produced in 2002.
Health Care Delivery Services, Inc. (HCDS) San Luis Obispo, California
President, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board
As chief executive, I was responsible for all corporate activities, policies and procedures relative to total administration of this health care corporation.
Other positions held in my career include:
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Westwood, California
Project Director - UCLA Drug Treatment Project - Faculty Member Department of Psychiatry - Neuropsychiatric Institute
The White House: Executive Office of the President,Washington, D.C.
The White Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP)
Associate Director, Technical Assistance then Director of Manpower Development