You’ve got to start somewhere: Locals share stories of first jobs

October 25, 2011 | Las Cruces Sun-News (NM)
By James Staley

Shopping carts, unfortunately, don’t have a homing function.

But that particular shortcoming of modern science has a bright side — jobs! Somebody has to retrieve those carts.

Often, that somebody is experiencing his or her first jaunt into employment. Many of the seasonal workers being hired around the country this month are labor rookies, too.

As such, their tasks usually are not known for fulfillment and satisfaction.

They can be the people plowing those broiling parking lots with shopping carts. They can be the people assembling a greasy green chile cheeseburger on your lunch break — or cleaning up your ketchup drippings, melted cheese and renegade fries. Maybe they are the person selling you Whoppers at the movie theater.

On the flip side, as in the case of Dr. McKinley Boston, they might be playing in the NFL.

Some first-timers will learn lessons, even if it’s just that they never want to do that particular job ever again. Some will find a calling. Some will be fired.

My Las Cruces recently asked several prominent residents about their first jobs. Here’s what they said:

Let’s make a deal

Ken Miyagishima

Current occupation: Mayor of Las Cruces

First job: Clerk (unofficial) Winchell’s Donuts

In 1973, Miyagishima walked into the local (now closed) Winchell’s Donuts franchise looking for work.

The girl at the counter didn’t have the authority to hire, but that didn’t stop Miyagishima. He made an offer; he would do her job for 50 cents an hour — at the time, minimum wage was $1.60, according to the Department of Labor — plus all the donuts he could eat. She accepted.

Miyagishima was 10.

“I cleaned and swept and mopped,” he said. “She was like 19, and she was on the phone all the time.”

Miyagishima’s past and future crossed paths in two significant ways during his subcontracting at Winchell’s. First, Miyagishima later determined that the donut shop was owned by the husband of state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia. Second, the franchise was located across Solano Drive from Miyagishima’s current insurance agency.

Dream (nearly) deferred

Dr. McKinley Boston

Current occupation: New Mexico State University Director of Athletics

First job: Professional football player

Boston will never forget her name: Ruth Scott.

She was a selective service officer in Boston’s native North Carolina. Not long after he had signed a contract with the NFL’s New York Giants — his first job — Boston received a letter from Scott. He was to report to the nearest military registration office.

It was 1968. His greatest concern was supposed to be making the Giants’ roster. Suddenly, it was war.

Said Boston: “For about a month, I had my lifetime goal in front of me that was being torn upon by a trip to Vietnam.”

Fortunately for Boston, he received a deferment. Not long after a four-year career in the NFL and Canadian Football League, he went into university administration.

Try again

Jack Nixon

Current occupation: Radio personality

First job: Busboy

A lifelong professional wrestling enthusiast, one of the biggest perks of Nixon’s first job, at a hamburger joint in Omaha, Neb., was that he worked alongside the wife of Boris Malenko, a well-known wrestler.

Unfortunately for Nixon, it didn’t last long.

“I got fired,” he said. “I didn’t understand how hard you have to work. I wasn’t loafing. I felt bad, because I thought I was doing good.”

Not long after that, Nixon landed a job at a snack bar inside a department store. He kept that position throughout high school.

“Another proud moment for Jack Nixon,” he quipped.

Lessons learned

Dr. Barbara Couture

Current occupation: NMSU President

First job: Short-order cook

Couture is thankful that her husband is a good cook.

“I’m a horrible cook,” she said.

But that didn’t stop a drug store in Couture’s hometown of Birmingham, Mich., from hiring her as a short-order cook. She mostly served up soft drinks from the soda fountain, but also cooked eggs. The Cunningham Drug had a 29-cent breakfast special.

One morning, a man ordered a T-bone steak. Because Couture didn’t know how to prepare it, she simply tried to make it match the color picture on the menu.

Said Couture: “It taught me to work fast and not to be afraid to trying new things.”


Tom Smith

Current occupation: Department Head of Theater Arts, NMSU

First job: Paperboy

When he was growing up, Seattle had three newspapers. At the age of 12, Smith decided to deliver papers for the one that didn’t have a Sunday edition.

“I thought I could have a day off,” he said.

Think again.

A few months after he started, the papers merged, which significantly increased Smith’s workload.

Smith remembers sitting in a small room with other paperboys, rolling up newspapers. At 4:30 in the morning, it was almost always rainy and cold. They talked about the future.

“Like, when we were 16 and were able to get another job, we were definitely going to,” he said.

Working with family

DeWayne Walker

Current occupation: Head Coach, NMSU football

First job: Laborer

By day, Odus Walker was a dead animal collector for the city of Los Angeles. To make extra money on the weekends, he performed a variety of odd jobs. By rule, his children helped.

That meant that Aggies coach DeWayne Walker worked alongside his dad as long as it wasn’t football season. The younger Walker said he started making about $20 per Saturday when he was 10.

Often, Walker and his dad would clean up around housing construction sites. One morning, the Walkers cleaned up in the affluent and celebrity-packed Pacific Palisades.

“It just kind of blew me a way,” Walker said. “At a young age, I got a taste of how you could live if you were successful financially.”