Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Life is a Checker Game: Move Here, Move There

The announcement came sudden and unexpected. 1976 had been a record year for Welded Tube, $80 million in sales. 1977 started off looking like it would be even better, but then as we crept toward 1978 things turned the other way.

For years I had come to work and been busy, busy, busy, between the accounting and running the technology. Now I was finishing up by lunch and sitting about twiddling my thumbs a good part of the time. We all were.

Why so? Nothing had changed with our product. We were still top of the line.

Yes, we were, but in 1977-78 the Empire of Japan began dumping lower priced steel in the United States. Mr. Baylis, unlike a number of other manufacturers, was stubbornly loyal to the idea of buying America. We continued to purchase coils from domestic companies at a higher cost than we could get it elsewhere and consequently we had to sell product at a higher price than our competitors who were not so patriotic. In the fall of 1978 it was announced the Philadelphia operation would be shut down and sold. Headquarters and all operations would be moved to our Chicago plant, where apparently both supply and shipping were less costly. 

It was a shock and Lou Bailis could not have been happy about his own decision. The Philadelphia area had been his home and it was here that he founded and built the company. We were told by the end of the year this location would be gone. I had been called upstair to the main office where they offered me a 47% raise to stay with the company and go to Chicago with them.  It was a difficult situation.

I was torn, but my wife was adamant that she didn’t want to move. We had lived all our lives in this area, our family was here as were all our friends. She did not want to move, and honestly, I didn’t either. But not to do so meant we would face that old bug-a-boo, unemployment and the challenge of finding a new job. Not only that, it wasn’t just us anymore. We had a baby now.

It was a new crisis to take to Laurel Hill Bible Church for prayer.

Then in the middle of October the phone rang. It was Jim Schlief (left), who I had been reporting to at Welded. He had left the month before the announcement was made having seen the handwriting on the wall and obtained a new position as CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for Mercy Catholic Medical Center. He called to see if I would consider coming there as the Budget Manager.

Of course I was.

I would start my new job in early November. I immediately let Welded Tube know I wasn’t going to Chicago with them and in fact was giving them my two-week notice. They were upset by my decision and tried to dissuade me by offering even more money, but our mind was set. 

It was a relief to know I wouldn’t face unemployment when Welded Tube closed up come January, but there wasn’t time to dwell on our good luck, if you could call it that. I didn’t know what I was in for at Mercy Catholic. We did know we would have to change addresses. The headquarters for the Medical Center was on Main Street, Darby, Pennsylvania.

Actually, it sat just outside the town proper and behind Holy Cross Cemetery at the border of Yeadon. Main Street had been South Lansdowne Avenue until the street crossed West Providence Road. There was irony in this for a decade earlier we had lived in The Lansdowne Towers, which sat along West Providence Road in walking distance of Mercy Catholic.

We weren’t in walking distance where we currently were. Between Chalet at Ski Mountain and my new workplace was a distance of 24 miles. If you look it up on Google Maps its says a
35-minute trip. Yeah, right, if you’re the proverbial crow. I’d be traveling during rush hour up Route 42 out of Jersey, crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge onto the Schuylkill Expressway until Route 291. This would take me through southwest Philadelphia, pass the airport, eventually through Darby to the Hospital, and then reverse it every evening. Maybe you could do it in 35 minutes if everybody else died and the highways were clear, but not in that daily traffic and certainly not on Friday evenings and Monday mornings during the Jersey shore season. No, the only sane thing to do was move and do it quickly.

Lois did not want to go into another apartment, but we didn’t have enough money to afford a down payment on a house. We drove over to a Real Estate Office in Springfield, Delaware County and we told the Agent we were looking for a house to rent, one we could stay put in it for a while. We emphatically insisted we didn’t want any place that the owner planned to sell in the short term. We wanted to rent from somebody who only wanted to rent their property for several years.

The Agent assured us she had the perfect home right there in Springfield. It belonged to an older woman who had no interest in selling. We began moving our furniture and stuff there on November 8. We left Laurel at my parents over the weekend. We moved to 338 Rambling Way on November 11. When we picked Laurel up on Sunday evening we had managed to move two more loads that day, but still had a couple more to do.

(Probably all those blasted books I had accumulated. My personal library grew year after year until a couple years ago I had over 5,000 volumes. (Only a few show in the photo.) Every time we moved the boxes loaded with books was greater. A decade ago I donated a great many to the local library. I only have a few hundred volumes left.)

My mom and grandmother were down on the 16 to help Lois unpack. They brought dinner with them. My dad got there in time to eat with us. They thought the house was nice. We had Christmas at our house that year. My parents gave Lois a washer and drier.

I have not mentioned anything for a long time about my wife’s Bipolar Disorder. I recall the house as being fairly decent, but she claims it was a decrepit dump, falling apart with the bathtub coming through the ceiling, a place she feared would collapse about us at any instance. (Photos of 338 Rambling Way’s interior line the sides along these passages.)

It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it also wasn’t on the verge of collapse. I have no recall of bathtub legs sticking through the kitchen ceiling. The basement was somewhat spooky, but most basements are. It had the furnace I think they used to terrify Kevin in “Home Alone”, but otherwise I didn’t fear for my child living there.

It had a nice backyard and the neighborhood was quite.

The home was conveniently situated, sitting less than a block back from Baltimore Pike, the main drag through Springfield. It had easy access to stores and restaurants, yet if you walked away from Baltimore Pike it was a quiet, peaceful stroll.

The house still stands nearly 40 years since we lived there and looks the same, except for a picket fence about the yard. (How the house looks today on the right; not much different then the first photo that I took when we moved there.)

It was only a 12-minute drive to the headquarters of Mercy Catholic Medical Center (MCMC) and my new job as Budget Director. MCMC consisted of, besides the administration building, two major Philadelphia Hospitals, the 204 bed Fitzgerald Mercy in Darby (on the right) and the 157 bed Misericordia Hospital in southwest Philadelphia (on the left).

In the years since I left they have changed the names to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and Mercy Philadelphia Hospital. That is okay, I always thought Misericordia was a terrible name for a hospital; sounds too much like misery. Actually, Misericordia is the Latin word for mercy.  The Medical Center also included a nursing school and several ancillary clinics scattered about the area. It was owned and operated by the Sisters of Mercy (a misnomer if ever there was one).

I was nervous about the size of the complex and the fact I had never been a budget manager before and wasn’t at all familiar with hospital accounting, but I was also looking forward to working with Jim Schlief again. I would soon be rudely awakened to a different reality.

I walked into a disaster. First of all, the fiscal year, as it is for many non-profits, ran from July 1 through June 30, not by calendar year. I began my new job in early November and discovered on day one that the 1978-79 budget was not yet in place. We were better than a third through the fiscal year and no budget had been completed. The former Budget Director, the man I was replacing, was still on board. He was a nice guy and a jovial sort, and he didn’t see this situation as very serious at all. He laughed it off. “We didn’t get a budget set until almost May last year so we’re ahead of the game. It was even worse the year before that.” No wonder they were bouncing this guy. He showed me around both hospitals, introducing me to department heads, but he showed no sense of urgency about inquiring where they were in the process. Well, I knew where they were, almost five months behind.

He left after another week and the department was all mine. I didn’t hardly know where to begin, but I knew it had to quick. I personally began visiting every cost center and I issued a memorandum that all budget paperwork needed to be in my hands within two weeks. That is when I discovered a lot of these managers had never even received paperwork or if they had, couldn’t understand it. I therefore carried extra paperwork with me and sat down with any manager to explain it. Now frankly, this stuff was new to me too and I was learning it as I taught them, but we got 'er done. Before Christmas came we had a budget in place and at the end of December we were comparing budget to actual. It wasn’t totally accurate, but it was better than nothing and I had made myself known to every cost center head in the system.

My second shock came as I was finalizing this budget. One of my biggest reason to be excited about my new employment, besides actually being employed, was the opportunity to work for Jim again.  It was not to be. Jim was the Chief Financial Officer, which meant he sat up top. He wasn’t the guy giving the day by day orders to my level. I seldom even saw him. There was an in between management position of Finance Department Vice President. The new boss started sometime that December.

We hated each other from the start.

He was a short, snarly man named Simons, a New Yorker with a heavy New Yorker accent full of curses. The first thing he said to me was I should fire my secretary. My secretary, Sue, was a nice middle-aged lady who had worked for the Center forever, meaning at least 25 years. She took orders well and did her job without mistakes and was very dedicated to MCMC. She had the monotonous task of typing up all those repetive monthly budget reports, pages and pages,  and did so without complaint and with efficiently. Why should I fire her? 

I asked him that very question. 

“Because then the other employees will fear you,” he answered

That was his management philosophy, rule by putting the fear of God, and he saw himself as god,  and he did fire a number of long time employees and people did fear him. I didn’t show the same fear. I refused to fire Sue. He didn’t like me from that time forward. Unfortunately for him he had to walk cautiously where I was concerned. He knew that Jim Schlief, who was his boss, and I had a prior relationship and friendship, and Jim had hired me. He would have to have a real good cause to fire me and that he didn’t have. I had done something the last two Budget Managers had failed to do, pull a budget together.

He never spoke a kind word to me the whole time I worked for him; in fact usually, sneered when ever he saw me, but for the most part he stayed away from me.

My home life during 1979 was fairly normal, no big traumas.  Our old friends had dwindled down to two couples, the Rubios (right) and the Ernests, we had moved away from everyone else.
Joe and Linda Rubio had their first child in 1973 and named her Meredith after me. In September 1978, shortly after having their second child, another girl whom they named Kristen, they visited us at 338 Rambling Way. The photo shows Laurel, Meredith and Kristen playing together. Meredith was one month older than Laurel.
This visit would be the last we saw each other in person. Not
long afterward ARCo closed its Philadelphia headquarters on South Broad Street and moved to downtown Los Angeles (Right, ARCo headquarters, L.A. in 1980). Unlike myself, he went with his company to the West Coast, buying a home with a swimming pool. We corresponded for a while, but that drifted off. I do not know where Joe is today. 

Victor (left) and Marsha Ernest continued their friendship with us a couple more years, but with the closing of Welded Tube he moved on elsewhere as well. He and I still went golfing on weekends, but by 1982 they disappeared from our lives. I heard from Victor a year or so ago, but nothing since. Both of them have serious health issues. 

In January 1979 I had to go take a driving exam to get a Pennsylvania Driver’s License to replace my New Jersey one. On February 3 we dropped Laurel off at my parents and they took her to a birthday party for her cousin Kelly. Lois and I went to a party at the Ernests.  (right, Kelly and Laurel.)

On March 3 we had a intimate party for Laurel’s first birthday. My mother, father and grandfather were at our place for dinner, as was Mr. Heaney and Evelyn Weinmann, Lois’ lifetime friend.

We were to my parents for Easter Sunday, as usual. 

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On May 19 my parents and grandmother came down for a belated Mother’s Day. We took them to the Longhorn Ranch Restaurant on Baltimore Pike in Glen Mills. We enjoyed that eatery and took Laurel there often. It had a Western theme with live country bands performing in the dining room. We always had a table ringside and  the bands fell in love with Laurel because she kind of flirted with them. When we sat down they kept directing their music at her. (This was different a different Longhorn from the chain restaurants using the name Long Horn today.)

It eventually closed and a nightclub called Pulsations was built where it had been. This was very popular for a couple years, drawing long lines, but it too closed and disappeared.  We never went there.

On June 27 for my birthday, we met my mom and grandmother and went to Dutch Wonderland. This was an amusement park that was brand new in the ‘sixties and rather limited in rides at the time, but they added a new ride each year and became fairly large.  

In August was the Wilson family reunion. We also received the bad news in August that we would have to move again. Despite the assurances of the Realtor when we rented 338 Rambling Way and that the lady owner had no intensions of selling it and never would, she did just that. She offered it to us, as a curtesy, she said, but we couldn’t afford to buy and thus it was sold out from under us and we had to be gone by the end of September.

So October 1 found us were moving our stuff once more.
This was a nicer, if smaller house, on Congress Avenue in Springfield. The owner hadn’t wanted to rent to a family with children, but the Realtor assured her we were a very nice family and talked her into it. The Realtor felt guilty because she had told us the first home would never be sold and it was. Boy, were we getting tired of moving. This was the ninth time since we married. That was nine times in less than 20 years.

On October 30, Lois and I were baptized by emersion at the Lowndes Free Church, also known as the Blue Church, where we were now attending after having to move from Laurel Hill Bible. Mr. Heaney and my parents and grandmother were there. It was a Sunday evening service. I had been baptized in the Grove Methodist Church as a baby and had reaffirmed my baptism at Laurel Hill, but I felt strongly we should be emersed and so we arranged it.  (On left is The Blue Church in Springfield, Delaware County.)

Thanksgiving was at my parents, but once again we had Christmas at our home and this would be the pattern for years to come. I didn’t think it was fair to pack the kid up after they opened their gifts and hauling them several miles away for the day. Let them be home and enjoy their new toys, and boy did Laurel get new toys.

You could say 1979 was a typical family year, little drama on the home front, other than the unexpected moving to a new home. The turmoil remained with Mercy Catholic Medical Center and the years immediately ahead.

1 comment:

Tim Laskowski said...

Larry. if you didn't know it back then, you should know now what a wise decision it was for you to stay in the Philly area and not move to the Chicago area for WTC. My late father, Stan Laskowski, held out until he got the offer and guarantees that he was looking for, moving to Olympia Fields, Il., south suburbs of Chicago, in July of 1979. Along with my father went my mother, my two younger sisters and family pets of course. Divorce and raising two sons as a single parent took me there 5 months, later, but I left there in August of 1981. It's not anything like the Philly suburbs. The roads are worse, winters are horrible, as are the taxes, and the people are no where near as friendly as they are back in Pennsylvania. By the mid 80's, Mr. Bailis had become very ill and put the company up for sale. He passed away in 1988 due to cancer. WTC was bought by Palmer Tubing from Australia, and the company was taken private and the stock delisted. They brought some of their own people in from overseas, keeping on some of the original office staff, my father included. By 1994, Russ Palmer, head of Palmer Tubing, put WTC up for sale. My father was forced to retire in October of that year. He wasn't happy about it, but at 66 years of age, it was time for him to enjoy life a little. He lost his wife, my Mother, in November of 1990 due to cancer, and his oldest daughter, my older sister, two years later. He actually traveled a bit after that, even doing some consulting work. He opted to continue to live in Illinois, something my mother did not want to do upon his retirement. Over time, everyone he stayed in contact from WTC had either passed away, or moved away. He passed away in early March of 2015. I can't say that the move to Illinois was a good thing for my family. Maybe it might have been if Mr. Bailis had stayed around longer and hadn't put the company up for sale, as he was always good to his employees and made WTC a great place to work at. After that, WTC was never the same and neither was the work atmosphere. It was hard on my family being separated from family and friends in Pennsylvania, especially for my Mother. Wish she was still here as she would have gotten out of there long ago and would be enjoying the good life like she dreamed of, living here in Arizona. Her plan was to travel with my father as well, going back and forth from here to Pennsylvania.

I don't know if you remember Joe Cirrillo from WTC. He lived over in Jersey. He he was the guy who showed my father and I how to properly catch blue shell crabs down at Sea Isle. He was a great guy. He passed away sometime in the early 70's I think, a few years after he lost his wife, who was also a very nice women.

Also, it was heartbreaking to watch the demo team demolish Veterans Stadium in South Philly. I don't know if you were aware of this, but a lot of WTC tubing was used in the construction of that stadium. My father, being a structural engineer, spent quite a bit of time there working with the general contractor in regards to specifications and issues they may have had with WTC tubing.

You mentioned the dumping of steel by Japan and Germany. I remember many times how my father would talk about that and the harm it was doing to the American Steel Industry. Bethlehem Steel was a big supplier of coiled steel to WTC. So many of those steel companies are gone today, or have downsized. Thousands of jobs lost. So sad that it took decades before this country was lucky enough to get a president who actually cares about putting America First.