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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

I got blamed for all the problems at work

Mr. Babe Parks was a self made man in the dairy industry. He never went to college as most of his colleagues did, but he spent so many hours and days at the plant that he knew every detail about the equipment or whatever you wanted to know about the dairy business. Mr. Parks' younger brother was our General Manager.

After Mr. Keller had left and I was running the lab on my own, the General Manager would drop by once in a while and would ask me certain questions. I was still in a learning process. He told the personnel manager that he had problems communicating with me, and would like to hire someone he could understand a lot better. But he also told the personnel manager how can I fire him, he works like a dog.

When they gave me the lab to run by myself, I noticed how dirty everything was around the lab. The lab in general needed a good clean up. I was not the type to ask my boss to have somebody clean the lab for me. So what I did, every night I spent a few hours of my own time to get the lab cleaned up. When I was cleaning up the walls or floors etc. the General Manager would drop by. This must have impressed him as nobody had done that before. I was used to cleanliness, and especially when you work in a food lab. Most of the people who had worked in this lab before were all college graduates. I was very lucky that they gave this job to me. From my side I wanted the General Manager to know that I was willing to do anything to keep this job. After Mr. Emilie Keller had left there were so many things I had to look after. I was sent by the company to the Maryland University on short courses for making cottage cheese. They had courses and symposiums in transferring all kinds of cultures. I had specialized people who worked for culture companies who came to our lab and worked beside me to teach me how to handle our cheese cultures. It was my responsibility to have a good cheese culture every day, as we made batches of cottage cheese every day. This was not an easy job as you had to work and transfer living bacteria. I had to grow cultures in the lab, and the slightest contamination from outside would stop a culture from growing. And if the cultures didn't grow, the cheese we had to make wouldn't grow. I spent many of my Sundays without the boss knowing, in the lab starting a new cheese culture because the one I had prepared for the cheese wouldn't grow, or was not active enough. So on Sundays I started a new culture, so that we had a fast growing one to make cheese. I always had several strains of cheese cultures going. If the cheese wouldn't turn out well it was always my fault. Whenever I walked into the lab in the morning and I saw the cheese man cooking the cheese, it was a burden of my shoulder. I made many mistakes in the beginning when I started this job, but from all the mistakes I made I learned so much. It's not easy if you have to learn it the hard way, but once you know it nobody will ever take it away from you. I spent many hours at night studying dairy books and magazines to educate myself in this business.

There was so much to learn in this business that I had to spend many hours at work. More and more I became involved with the management staff. I became involved with the staff of the sales department. I was invited to staff meetings and learned a lot of the financial aspects of our business. One thing was a great help to me, whatever came in front of me in jobs or people I never shied away from it, and what I didn't know I would always ask people for help. There were many times in my job that I was stuck and didn't know what to do. I received many phone calls about our products, and some people wanted to know every detail about the product. You needed a PhD. to explain some of the customer's questions, but I learned very quickly how to handle those phone calls. If the question became too technical and I didn't have an answer for it right away, I would simply say, "I am sorry but I am a helper in the lab, and my boss has just walked out for a little while. Could you call back a little later?" In the meantime I had enough time to find out about the question I was asked. The job and the business I was in, you never could be too honest with the public.

When I first started my job I was very honest and straightforward with the people, but that could get you in trouble. I had a lady call me one day and ask me about our equipment and cleaning procedure. I was very honest in our phone conversation and told her that we used a caustic cleaning solution to get the build-up of milk solids off all of our pipe-lines and equipment. After our phone conversation she called my General Manager and told him that she got sick from our milk she bought in one of the stores. She said it must have been from the caustic solution we were using in our clean-up procedure. She told my General Manager that she was getting herself a lawyer and that our company was going to pay for all the doctor's bills, etc. When my General Manager found out that I was the one who told her about our cleaning procedure, I didn't hear the last of it. I was called into the General Manager's office and told never to tell anybody what we do in our business. It wasn't a very pleasant conversation, but when I left my General Manager's office I had learned that being too honest in this business wouldn't get me that far. After that incident I became more careful with what I would say to people. I even tricked the bosses I worked with.

If the cottage cheese wasn't too good it was always my fault. They always blamed it on the cultures I gave them. But sometimes the cheese makers who handled the cultures were very careless and contaminated the cultures after I had transferred them in the lab. It was easy to put the blame on me, and then some of the workers would say, "that foreigner doesn't know what he is doing in that lab". Of course there was some jealousy among some of the workers when I became in charge of the lab.

When the cottage cheese wasn't too good my General Manager would come to me and wanted to know what had happened with that particular batch of cheese.

Every day's batch of cottage cheese we made I had to take a sample cup full to his office. So to get the boss off my back I started to cheat a little bit. Whenever I had a perfect vat of cottage cheese I would save enough in the lab, so that I always had a good cup of sample cheese in the morning on his desk. The General Manager never noticed that I cheated on him, but it took a lot of pressure off my back.

CONTINUED: Southland Corporation buys Embassy Dairy
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

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- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
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