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April 2009 - Teddy Schalow, 102

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 Theresa "Teddy" Schalow, 102
“Where’s the Action?”

Theresa "Teddy" Schalow

     New Yorker Theresa “Teddy” Schalow will turn 102 on April 27th, but that hasn’t put a dent in her busy lifestyle.  She lives on her own, still drives, goes out for lunch with friends, does all her own grocery shopping and chores and helps others who need a hand.
      Teddy has the distinction of being the oldest living employee of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and was honored there on her 100th birthday.  “Kenneth (of New York City) did my hair, and there was a story and picture in the employee bulletin.”  Oh, the memories she has of the famous people she met.  “Cole Porter was my favorite; he used to write songs overnight,” she recalls.  How Teddy came to work there is a story in itself. 
     “My father made me quit school and go to work  when  I  was  16, in  the  neighborhood.

       Then I got a job as an operator with the New York Telephone Company.  They were very strict, but they trained us well.  I was really good because I was quick and I could remember the numbers and handle three calls at once.  But I was short, about 5’3”, and I had to jump out of my seat repeatedly to reach the plugs on the top of the board. 

      "They had a supervisor who would walk up and down behind us, watching our every move.  If we got caught talking to the girl next to us, we got a demerit and they docked our pay.  I had to take my paycheck home to my father and he would give me just enough money for the subway or bus, and maybe a little for lunch – my mother made all my clothes.  After working there for a few years, I was cited by the supervisor for saying something to the girl next to me.  I took off my headset and handed it to her and walked out just like that after getting my last pay. They didn’t care; there were 16 girls waiting to take my job. Times were tough.  But I was so angry after working so hard for them to be treated like that over a minor infraction, that I went straight to Bloomingdales on 59th and Lexington and blew my whole paycheck, buying frivolous things. I didn’t care at that moment – it just felt good to be free.  But then, when I walked out I started to think about having to go home with no paycheck to give to my father and that sobered me up.

  Teddy at age 17
Teddy at age 17

       "Just then, I saw a line that stretched all the way up 59th Street and to Park Avenue.  I walked over and asked the last girl on line, 'What’s up?'  She said the Waldorf Astoria was hiring, and all these people were standing in line for an interview for various jobs.  When I overheard that one of them was for switchboard operators, I thought, 'That’s for me!' and so I got in line.  It was a long wait, but when I finally got to the interview they had me read from a card, and when they learned I had worked for several years for the telephone company, I was hired on the spot.  That was 1932, when jobs were hard to come by.  I was lucky.  They put me on as an operator for the Towers, where all the important people stayed, and that’s how I got to meet so many interesting people.  I also got to see the first prototype of a television set in 1933.  They were very good to me; everyone liked me."

Teddy's daughter, Theresa, in front of their home.
Teddy's daughter, Theresa, in front of their home.

       Then another opportunity came knocking, and Teddy jumped at it:  “I bought one of the first FHA homes in New Hyde Park, New York, on Long Island, for $3,000 and put $5.00 down payment – no kidding! It was 1936. In 1939-1940, I worked at the World’s Fair in Flushing, New York, because it was exciting and fun. Then I went back to being a switchboard operator; this time at Sperry Gyroscope Company, because it was closer to my house.”
       Along the way, Teddy had married and had a daughter. “But I always worked;  I  was  a  working  mother  long

before it became popular.  A lot of married women went to work during the War, but I continued afterward. And I was ambitious.  I noticed that the workers at the plant got a lot of overtime, and I told the boss one day that I wanted to work there where I had the opportunity to make more money.  He said the welders earned the most, but that I had to be trained for six months.  I said, 'Sure.'  Then, I asked for all the overtime I could get – nights, weekends, holidays – all the time-and-a-half hours – and I used that extra money to buy the big things and to pay off my house and car and furniture.  I would borrow money from the credit union and then pay it back with the overtime money.  I was so good, I could weld a wire as fine as a hair on your head. I did all right. We worked on a lot of important projects, defense projects.” 

to be continued ...


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