Week 14: #52 Ancestors – Check It Out
By Eilene Lyon
My grandmother, Reatha (Gusso) Halse, never finished high school, but she spent two decades working in the Chemistry department at Oregon State University. As the supply room clerk, she spent her days checking out laboratory equipment to undergrads.
Reatha became a widow at age 45 when her husband, Everett Halse, had his third heart attack in July 1961. But she went to work outside the home in 1952, even before Everett was disabled by his heart disease. It wasn’t her first job, but she had spent at least a decade at home with her four sons before taking the sales position at J.C. Penney Co. in downtown Corvallis.
In February 1960, she obtained the clerk position at what was then called Oregon State College. Several changes took place in her first years on the job. The college became a university in 1961. In 1962, a new Physics-Chemistry Building was dedicated and Grandma moved to her new quarters. The building was rechristened Weniger Hall in 1965.
I remember visiting her supply room when I was a kid. The building had a cage-style elevator, which I thought was pretty cool. Her work space seemed a bit dark and dominated by concrete. Her “office” was like a bunker. At barely 5 feet tall, she must have seemed a bit gnome-like behind the partition and counter.
Students would come in for their beakers, flasks, pipettes, and other items to perform their assigned experiments. Reatha wrote down what they checked out on a numbered slip that had a blue carbon-paper backing to make a duplicate. She then matched up what they returned against the check-out slip.
When I took chemistry in the early 1980s at The Ohio State University (yes, they insist on that capitalized “The” in the name), I recall there being some sort of check-out process. When I got my minor in chemistry at Fort Lewis College here in Durango in 2007, we just grabbed what we needed from the appropriate drawers in the lab. I expect supplies cost a lot less nowadays.
Grandma always had a stash of pads of the duplicate requisition forms at home (okay, so a little minor employee theft going on there). Along with an old mechanical adding machine, we grandkids could entertain ourselves for hours, developing our imaginations as we played store, accountant, or other grown-up endeavors. Never underestimate the power of carbon paper and outdated technology to keep a kid enthralled.
Grandma retired from the university on March 31, 1981 and enjoyed over two decades of a comfortable retirement in the home she and Grandpa had purchased in 1952.
Feature image: Chemistry lab about 1971. (Wikimedia Commons)