Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Thank-you notes for good work

        The Jeanie machine never hands out Hershey's kisses and a weather report with the crisp cash, as did my bank teller.

        Ruthie in my favorite coffee shop sometimes tapes an anise candy to my tuna sandwich. Once she slipped a lime lollipop under the wrapper. I notice that every sandwich does not come this way, and it makes me feel special. So, I stand in line to see her, even though there are other, fancier shops nearby.

        People who go out of their way to excel seem to be more connected to the customer than the institution.

        This was not always the case. Remember all those PNG license plates you used to see around town? And I wonder how many Procter & Gamble employees still snoop in their friends' medicine chests to make sure they're buying company products.

Close to customers

        Pride, I suppose, is a trap of a certain kind. If you believe you are doing important work, you might continue to do it with enthusiasm even if you are not being paid what you are worth, even if you might make more money doing something else, even if you are woefully overworked.

        Teachers, most of the time. Nurses, inevitably. These two professions are very close to the customers. So, I have two stories to tell you.

Hooking bookworms

        One is about Debra Ventling, school librarian at Berry Middle School in Lebanon. Her mission, as she sees it, is to connect “as many kids as I can with books.” If she asks enough questions, if she listens hard enough, she thinks she can find a book for every kid.

        Most of “my reluctant male readers,” as she puts it, will get hooked on books by Gary Paulsen. She starts them out with Hatchet, a tale of a boy lost in the wilderness of Canada. Luckily, Mr. Paulsen is a very prolific writer so she has about 50 more opportunities to keep the boy reading.

        Or the girl. “Girls will read fiction about boys,” she says. “The opposite is not true.” One of her favorite lures for adolescent girls is a book by Caroline Cooney called, The Face on the Milk Carton. Pretty good stuff. But Ms. Ventling says she doesn't think it hurts to start out with, say, Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey or R.L. Stein's Goosebumps books. “Once they have the reading habit, I can steer them to better books,” she says.

        She calls them “my” readers, stays on top of the new books, is keenly aware of what kids are reading from her library and on their own time. It's urgent. “If I don't connect them with books, they'll be off to high school with a lot more competing for their time. I just have this one chance.”

        Important work. Pride.

        Add to that “life and death,” and you've got a nurse's job. Lois Broerman called to tell me about Lisa Wilson, a recovery room nurse at Deaconess Hospital. Lois is officially the director of North Fairmount's Community Center and unofficially its heart and soul and, if need be, its gladiator. But that's another story. Lois thinks we should concentrate now on Lisa.

        Lois was having surgery on a hip and woke up in a lot of pain. A lot. Lisa took care of her on her shift. Then returned twice when she was, technically, on her own time.

        These are just a couple of stories. Maybe you have some of your own about people who have dazzled you with their work. Charmed you by their attention.

        Don't tell me.

        Tell them.
        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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