The Big 10, March 30, 2014: Worst jobs

Before they went on to run their own courtrooms, companies, school districts and space shuttle missions, today's panel of 10 slogged through crummy temp jobs they dreaded — just like the rest of us did. We asked them to share their worst workplace nightmare.

PATRICK CONNOLLY
Police chief, Urbana

Employer: A retirement home for nuns in Milwaukee.

"Junior year of high school. I was responsible for cleaning the cafeteria and restocking the kitchen.

"My third day at work, I got stuck in a freight elevator for several hours, and once I got out, I was scolded for not completing my duties in a timely manner.

"Many of the nuns literally raced one another in the hall to be the first in line to the cafeteria, and then became angry with me for keeping the doors secured until I was directed to allow them entry.

"Finally, I repeatedly ran into the butcher — soiled apron and all — in the network of very dimly lit underground tunnels that interconnected facilities. I was scared to death and I lasted there for a whopping month before I convinced my folks that I had to find another job."

HON. ARNOLD BLOCKMAN
Judge, Champaign County Circuit Court

Employer: A restaurant chain in Memphis.

"I worked full-time over the summer as a roast beef slicer at a Roy Rogers franchise in 1963, when I was 16. I am not real mechanically inclined, and I spent the whole summer having nightmares about losing a hand or a finger. The fact that I was making only $1 to $2 per hour did not help."

SHIRA EPSTEIN
Owner, Champaign Surplus

Employer: A Champaign family that shall remain nameless.

"I've been super fortunate, even during high school and early in my working career, and haven't had any nightmare jobs. But I did have a funny babysitting experience in about eighth grade.

"I sat regularly for one family, and on this particular instance, the father must have not had any bills in his wallet or wanted to use up a bunch of loose change. So, he paid me for a couple of weeks in mostly nickels and dimes. As he was counting it all out, I just stood there not knowing what to say or do — I didn't want to be disrespectful.

"I didn't have a purse or anything to put it all in and could hardly hold it all. I remember trying to balance it all cupped in my hands, and finally dropping a bunch of the change as I tried to maneuver getting out of his car when he dropped me off at home.

"Now that I'm on the parent side of the equation, I always make sure to have cash on hand for the sitter."

GRAHAM BERRY
Owner, Soccer Planet

Employer: A newspaper in his native London.

"In high school, I had a job selling the Evening Standard newspaper at a busy traffic-light stop in the city.

"The worst thing that happened to me: I am an avid West Ham United fan and would always wear my maroon-and-blue scarf. On one occasion, there were many cars using that road to get to a game to watch their team, Chelsea. They thought it would be fun to pelt me with pennies as they pulled away from the light.

"Of course, I had the last laugh, because I got to pick up the pennies."

COURTNEY McKAY
Owner, Art Mart

Employer: An Italian restaurant/store in Chicago.

"I had a job after college at Convito Italiano, right off of Michigan Avenue. Every day when we took the garbage out, we had to heave the bags into a dumpster in the alley, then run and jump on the loading dock because about 30 rats would race out from underneath the dumpster.

"We got to eat for free and wait on a lot of famous people, so I guess we didn't really care about the rats."

JACK WALLACE
General manager, Strawberry Fields

Employer: Construction sites near Hinsdale.

"At 14 I'd work as a laborer on some of the construction sites my dad supervised. One spring, I spent my Easter break trimming the excess plastic off the vapor barriers on the foundations of newly built houses. It wasn't too bad until it started raining and I found myself stuck up to my knees in mud with no one around to pull me out.

"Did I mention my pay rate of $0 per hour?"

PETER FOX
Chairman, Fox Development Corporation

Employer: A country club in Champaign.

"I raked sand traps at Lincolnshire Fields for 90 cents an hour. But I learned many valuable lessons from my boss, Frank Stynchula, and thank the Shapland family for the opportunity."

SCOTT AMERIO
Superintendent, Rantoul Township Schools

Employer: A trucking company in Chicago.

"The first real job I had — loading trailers during the day shift in summers when I was in high school.

"One time, I was picking up a pallet to put into the trailer. I had the forks a little higher than I thought, and one of them went into the shipment that was on the pallet. An unknown liquid started pouring out, so I called the foreman over. He opened up the black plastic covering to find that it was a shipment of vodka that I'd put the fork through.

"After taking care of the situation and doing all the necessary paperwork, we turned around to see that the fork had turned green. The foreman's response: 'If that stuff does that to that fork, imagine what it does to your stomach.'"

RON BAILEY
Owner, Blossom Basket Florist

Employer: A golf course in Moline.

"In the basement men's locker room, shining shoes and cleaning the locker room. It was a dungeon. I was paid $1.50 an hour, but I was 15 and glad to have a job. I worked from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. most days and had Sunday off if they didn't have any events.

"It taught me a great work ethic and a lot of humility. It also gave me the incentive to work hard in school so I would not have to do that the rest of my life."

VICKI HAUGEN
CEO, Vermilion Advantage

Employer: A neighbor in Danville.

"When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I spent the summer babysitting for three young boys. There were 6-year-old twins and an 8-year-old. Their dad was a single dad. He worked at a local factory, so I had to arrive at their house before 7 and he got home a little after 3.

"They were typical boys — what the older one couldn't think of, the twins certainly could. It was perpetual motion and mischief. The day they brought the crow into the house was the final straw.

"In my adult years, I chose to never have children. There may be some correlation with the experience that summer."

STEVE NAGEL
UI grad and former NASA astronaut

Employer: A fast-food joint in Canton.

"I was a carhop one summer during high school. The work was not fun — I was serving all my buddies, who came in with their hot cars.

"The worst experience: As I was hanging a tray on a gentleman's window, it bumped the window and three large drinks tipped over directly onto his lap. It wasn't pretty and he wasn't happy. No tip for that one."

DOROTHY DAVID
City manager, Champaign

Employer: An industrial maintenance company in Cleveland.

"My first summer job, I spent every day alone in a warehouse office doing financial record keeping. That is when I decided to pursue a career working with people, because I truly disliked spending so much of my day alone."

SUE NOVITSKY
Women's swimming coach, University of Illinois

Employer: The county health department in her Michigan hometown.

"It was an internship in the water-testing lab at the Oakland County Health Department. I believe it was during the summer of 1990, after my junior year in college. I was majoring in biochemistry and was getting some real-world experience in my major. The job was basically making the testing medium, keeping the lab clean and testing water samples that were brought in from the public, swimming pools, lakes, etc.

"The worst thing about the job was how repetitive and slow it could be — and sometimes seeing the results of some of the samples that were tested."

MARK HALL
20-time monster-truck racing national champion from Champaign

Employer: His own company — Hall Brothers Racing.

"The worst job I ever had was when I had to cut racing tires. We cut the tread off for racing. It was hot, loud — and what a mess.

"That was a summer job when I was a teenager. Now we race professionally and we are still messing with tires — great big ones."

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