By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City
Womanpower at Manpower
Long before my sister Joany and I worked together as collaborators on (mostly) writing and performing projects, I made the rounds as an actress, worked as an important-people’s assistant and wrote game show material. Joany worked for Manpower, Inc., the world’s largest temporary help service. She was quickly promoted from dispatcher to recruiting and training director, and then to sales manager of the many New York area offices.
Need a temporary job? Call Joany. So what if she wasn’t in the office most of the time? So what if it was long before cellphones? Joany would get a message and you would get a job. Clearly, it was good to know Joany.
Elmer Winter, founder and president of Manpower, knew Joany, having met this standout at several corporate meetings, and they became friends. One day, Uncle Elmer (as he referred to himself) called Joany and asked her for a favor. It had to do with his bright and hard-working assistant, Ron Franzmeier. Ron, at the time, was taking care of his double-amputee mother, in addition to his full-time, very responsible job. One day, Uncle Elmer asked Ron if he was having any fun. Ron answered, “What’s fun?” That did it…the phone call to Joany.
Uncle Elmer wanted to send Ron to New York, place him in Joany’s care, pay for everything, just so that Ron could know what fun is. Fun for Joany was having Elmer Winter agree to pay for everything.
It was a glorious thing that Uncle Elmer was doing for Ron…if only Ron had thought so. He was so frightened about leaving his mom (even though Uncle Elmer was providing a temp for her care) and about traveling to—of all places—New York City. Did I say “frightened”? “Petrified” was more like it.
For a full two weeks before he was due to board a Northwest airplane taking him to the big bad city, Ron spoke to Joany and/or me on a daily basis. We Wilen sisters spent hours assuring him that he would be safe in our city. No matter what we said, Ron was convinced he would be mugged in an elevator.
Rather reluctantly, Ron came to town. Uncle Elmer was paying? Joany booked a room for Ron at the Plaza Hotel. We met him in the lobby and, within seconds of checking in, Ron began his romance with New York City.
The three of us went for breakfast at the Plaza’s Palm Court. Seated there was Mayor John Lindsay (this was the early 1970s). We said, “Oh yes, Ron, the Mayor is here to welcome all newcomers to the city.”
Coming from Milwaukee and zipping himself in his car to get from place to place, this walking business in New York was a novelty that he loved. He was able to sightsee and people watch as we went to museums, the theater, ethnic restaurants, the Empire State Building, the United Nations and Central Park. Ron was having fun.
The funnest part for us was the day we took him shopping. Uncle Elmer made arrangements with the posh Madison Avenue men’s clothier, Paul Stuart, for Ron to get a business suit. One business suit? Not nearly enough, according to Joany. After a Paul Stuart suit, Joany took Ron to the Garment District. It was on a Sunday, when you could go from floor to floor in several buildings and find manufacturing companies open for business. You could get first quality clothes at wholesale prices if you paid cash.
The first place Ron went, the man in charge took one look at him and the way he was dressed, and said, “You’re from out of town, right?” Then he jokingly said, “Put jam on your shoes and invite your pants down for tea.” This guy was crude, but he called it like it was. Within a couple of hours, Ron had a fine-fitting wardrobe…suits, shirts and ties and at a fraction of retail prices. We prepared a list of which shirts and ties went with each suit.
The day ended with Ron at a shoe store where he selected a smart, rich-looking pair of boots. Boots! When he tried them on, he stood up straight, and walked around the store as though he owned it. Those boots made a huge difference in the way he carried himself…and they were his choice. He discovered his inner Nancy Sinatra.
The day Ron was leaving for the airport, he checked out of his room at the Plaza while we were waiting for him in the lobby. He met us by saying, “It happened…the mugging in the elevator.” We panicked. “When? Are you okay? What happened?” He calmly reported, “It happened in this hotel, on my way down, I mugged two ladies.”
Ron learned how to have fun and make fun.
When he went back to work, he was a man with newfound confidence and a clothing sense. On his first day back in the office, he called Joany and whispered to her, “Mr. S (Manpower’s VP) should put jam on his shoes and invite his pants down for tea.”
New York City became Ron’s home-away-from-home and we three became best friends.
Ron left Manpower in the late 1970s and in 1980 went to work for the Red Cross Blood Center of Wisconsin. He became a sought-after international speaker on behalf of the Blood Center. The last time he was in New York, was in October 1990. We talked about how far he had come since that very first time he left home. We both marveled at his plane mileage and about all his accomplishments and great contributions.
Sadly, Ron passed away in 1991 at age 46. He was so well respected that numerous awards were established in his honor and memory by The Blood Center: The Ron Franzmeier Lifetime Achievement Award, Ron Franzmeier Award for Extraordinary Volunteer Service, The Franzmeier Leadership Award.
What are the chances of changing someone’s life in a week…bringing out the real him? From hick to slick, from a prude to a dude, from drip to hip. It happened and it also happened that we bonded for the rest of his productive and inspiring life.
Not So Super Supervisors
One of Joany’s Manpower clients was the Guaranteed Extermination Company on Utica Avenue in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Annette Weinstein, the office manager, needed an assistant bookkeeper on a temporary basis. My mother was an assistant bookkeeper and lived within walking distance of Annette’s place.
It was a perfect Manpower match-up. That is, until a few days after my mother started working at that pest control company, Joany got an hysterical call from Mom, “There’s a roach crawling under my desk and I’m afraid to put my feet down. What should I do?” Joany advised her to somehow manage to put her feet down and leave. While Joany was looking for a replacement and smoothing things over with Annette, she found out that Annette had a son in college who could use temporary jobs on weekends.
What are the chances that an insurance company needed clerical workers for a Saturday when the building was otherwise closed? Joany saw to it that the staff filled the openings with three dozen people. Annette’s son Bob Weinstein and yours truly were the designated supervisors in charge of those 36 workers. Bob and I met for the first time at the site. We worked well together, taking attendance, seating the minions, and giving them their workload.
The Company saw to it that the cafeteria stayed open and staffed so that everyone could have lunch. Lunchtime came and we had the workers taking the four elevators down three floors to the cafeteria. When it was time to go back to work, Bob and I both agreed that the supervisors shouldn’t pile in with the rest of the peons. No! Let them crowd into the elevators. We’ll walk up the three flights.
We went into the stairwell and the door closed behind us. When we reached the floor we needed, Bob, gentleman that he was, reached for the door in order to hold it open for me. The only problem was, the door didn’t open. It was locked. What to do?
We went back down the three flights to the cafeteria floor, but that door also locked when we closed it. We went back up three flights and started pounding on the door and yelling for help. “Open the door to the stairs.” “Can anyone hear us?” “Is anyone there?” Bob was a Spanish major in college and thought there may be someone who understood Spanish, and so he yelled, “Ayuda! Abra la puerta! Estamas en la estamas en escalera. Hay alquien que puede oirnos?”
Finally, after about 10 minutes (that seemed like 10 years), one of the workers, on his way to the men’s room, thought he heard sounds coming from the stairwell and he opened the door. There were his two supervisors, sweating up a storm, practically in tears and trying to act cool.
Once the workday was over and everyone signed out, Bob and I wanted to go out for a drink. Wouldn’t you know, neither of us imbibe, so we made up for it by having lunch the following weekend. That was decades ago and we’ve been close friends ever since.
As Michelle Ventor said, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” I ask, what are the chances that you’ll meet a person in the oddest way and they’ll become your friend for a lifetime? My answer, judging by experience, the chances are quite good. I also ask, who is Michelle Ventor?
If you have a “What Are The Chances...? story you would like to share, I’d love to know about it. Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy!
Lydia Hope Wilen had a successful collaboration with her late sister Joany as nonfiction bestselling authors (18 books), journalists, TV personalities, writers and talent coordinators on a Nickelodeon series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Reading Rainbow episodes, skit writers for Dr. Ruth's TV show, Diet America Challenge on CBS, and writers of screenplays (optioned but not produced yet).
Lydia is writing on her own now and has just completed an extraordinary book for young people and their parents. It will have them laughing and learning...once she gets an agent and it gets published.