As with many of her generation, the arc of Daniela Kanz’s secretarial career traces the development of technology from manual typewriter to word processing in the computer age. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Daniela Kanz
A favorite coffee cup of mine had the saying on it “I FAXED MYSELF TO HAWAII. – A SECRETARY’S DREAM.”
I no longer have that cup or that dream as I went to Hawaii with my youngest daughter in 2013. Thinking about that cup brings back memories of working as a secretary (or administrative assistant as it is now called). There is a celebratory week and day in April that has been in existence since 1952 celebrating this profession.
In high school I learned the Pitman method of shorthand. It was a difficult system whereby one had to use a pencil to make the dark and light strokes, and the strokes could be either on the line, over the line, or under the line depending on the sound of the word. I did manage to learn the system, but was never able to gain much speed as I was overly concerned about being unable to read back what I wrote.
During this time in high school, a visitor came to an assembly who was a speed typist. He typed over 100 words per minute on a manual typewriter. This was a pivotal moment for me as I decided I would one day type that fast. I took several business related subjects in high school and upon graduation ended up working at a bank near Wall Street.
In order to move into a better position as secretary to the bank manager, I needed to have good shorthand skills. While riding the subway, I saw an advertisement for the Speedwriting School that taught an alphabetic form of shorthand. I enrolled in this school, continued to gather speed in my typing, and managed to pass the shorthand test at the bank.
I worked there until moving to California where my typing skills landed me a job at North American Aviation – the forerunner to Rockwell/Autonetics, now Boeing. I eventually moved from typist to secretary there as well.
One of my favorite comments about the job at Autonetics was that while the engineers I worked for developed the plans for the Apollo, we produced so much paperwork that the astronauts would not need the space ship. All they needed to do was climb to the moon using all the paperwork as a ladder. I worked there for five years.
Then, while my children were little, I turned to waitressing as I could earn more money in less hours as a waitress. I joined the waitress union and I received many jobs through the union hall working for caterers.
This came in very handy when my husband was on strike at his union job at the company that made cartridge cases for the military going to Viet Nam. The caterer felt sorry for my family and provided us with any leftovers from the various weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, and studio parties we worked. I also worked at the Hollywood Paladium as a banquet waitress working events such as the Grammys and New Year’s Eve as well as New Year’s Day Breakfast.
Additionally, I often took jobs at the Coliseum handing out hot dogs and beer at union wages. One of my favorite waitress memories was getting ready for the Magic Mountain opening. There was to be a big pre-opening festivity for a huge crowd of Hollywood celebrities.
The day before the event, we all worked in a big warehouse putting together box dinners in pretty flowerd boxes. The caterer needed so many people to work handing out the boxed meals and to work the bars that they asked the regulars if we could get family members to help out – even if they weren’t union. A great many of my male family members knew how to be bartenders and they helped fill the bill.
When we moved to New Mexico, I went to work for the Sears Catalog Store in Hobbs as the teletypist and I was back to my love of typing. I would make a game of it to see how many orders I could type and submit to Dallas before the deadline so that customers would receive their orders in the shortest amount of time.
While working at Sears, I decided to further my education by attending New Mexico Junior College. I thought that perhaps getting my Associates Degree in Secretarial Science would help me secure a better paying job and would offset the years I gave up office work.
It was at NMJC that I learned about Word Processing. I flew through the machine transcription class due to my typing skills and finally met my goal of typing 100 words per minute. I enjoyed machine transcription over shorthand, but the course required I learn Gregg Shorthand - the third system I attempted to learn.
Again, I was so fearful of being unable to read what I wrote, that I fell back to my Speedwriting whenever I needed it, but really preferred machine transcription with a Dictaphone.
After graduation from NMJC, I went to work for a bank in Hobbs in the Word Processing Department ending up as supervisor over five operators as the department and bank grew. I even ended up in a national magazine due to a measurement report to management I devised.
Word processing was the up and coming office production endeavor during the 1970s.
When we returned to California, my word processing experience landed me a job for the company that was contracted to put in the 911 emergency system for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. I like to say I worked that contract from cradle to grave as I was hired during contract negotiations, and after the system was up and running, the company managed a five-year maintenance contract.
This extended the life span of my tenure to almost 11 years. I retired from that company, but didn’t stop working. I will always be thankful to this company as they subsidized my going back to school and getting my bachelor’s degree.
Over the years, I had yearnings to teach and often volunteered as a Sunday school teacher at my church, so I decided to obtain a California Teaching Credential. After acquiring the credential, I was able to teach adults computer applications at ABC and Paramount adult schools.
I especially enjoyed working with seniors as I understood their anxieties, having had similar experiences while learning the ever-evolving computer literacy required nowadays. Only someone who typed on a regular typewriter would know about using the letter ‘L’ for the numeral one (1). You cannot do that in a computer spreadsheet.
Due to medical issues, I am now a retiree living with my youngest daughter. She is a fourth grade teacher at Hollydale School in the Paramount Unified School District. Sometimes I visit her class to help her students with their reading. One of her students gifted her with a cup that is now my favorite. It states: "Teachers make A difference."