Hanging Out in Rockford: A personal journey—part six

After graduating from Beloit, I was faced with the obligations of having gone to college, my accumulated debt both to the college and to the government. I decided to try to get a job teaching in the Rockford system while retaining my head resident position. There was precedent for this; others had done the same type of thing before. I had a good reputation as head resident, my dormitory having the lowest damage and lowest incidence of problems on the Beloit campus. I did not, however, count on opposition from the dean of students.

I had run into some opposition from this dean. He called me to his house one night, and under the influence of obviously too many cocktails, accused me of having been involved in drugs while being head resident. I told him honestly that while I had experimented with drugs (marijuana) prior to my tenure as head resident, I had voluntarily forgone all things of that nature while being head resident, because of the obvious conflict of interest involved with managing the dormitory. I could tell that he didn’t believe me.

His real opposition to my remaining on campus had to do with our differences in philosophy regarding how the students were disciplined. He actively opposed my retention by the college. I didn’t let this stop me. I paid personal calls on the president of the college and the dean of men, both strong supporters of what I had done with the dorm, and I retained my position while I taught for a year at Roosevelt Middle School in Rockford. By the end of that year, I had entirely retired my college debt.

At Roosevelt, I taught under David Pennock. He was a marvelous, soft-spoken man who really cared about kids. The school was about 27 percent minority. Keith Talmadge was the assistant principal. I taught speech and dramatic arts. My classes were in the school cafeteria, and I had kids from sixth, seventh and eighth grades. I still run into people who were my students to this day. This was the period in question in the People Who Care lawsuit. Most of my students were from white families. They all received the same education as the minority students. It was a question of rich east side vs. poor west side, not a question of segregation. Who speaks for the 75 percent of the students who were not minority? I always felt that this lawsuit was misdirected and accomplished nothing.

After teaching for a year, I could have continued. I was invited back, but I decided not to. Instead, I returned to Rockford Nehi, where I soon became a route supervisor. One of my territories included the part of our franchise that went into Beloit and Janesville. I was enormously successful. We soon dominated the supermarket shelves in this area the way we did in Rockford. I continued successfully for a few years, but there was a limit to how far I could go. Bud wasn’t going anywhere, and there was only so much room to move up. I started to look around for another job. I interviewed with Pepsi Cola. Somehow, Fred Adamany got word of this, and rather than have me work against them in Rockford, he provided me with a lead to become sales manager for the RC Cola company of Sacramento, Calif.

I went to California for the interview. I had a dreadful intestinal flu and barely could function. My new boss to be was Doug Lee, a Chinese-American who had been quite successful working for the Gallo wine company. In spite of the flu, I got the job. Then I took Robin to see San Francisco; she had never been there. I had ridden there with Ron Mackey just before my 30th birthday on our 750 Hondas. I joked that I spent the next couple of years figuring out how to move there. Robin and I ate at the Ruby Palace, an authentic dim sum restaurant patronized by mostly Chinese. I ate some calf’s brain in a starchy potato dumpling and almost lost it in the restaurant. But I had my new job tied down in the Golden State.

I did well as the sales manager of the Sacramento plant. To get ads in the mostly chain California market, it was necessary to coordinate all the participating franchises. When Safeway (or any of the other chains) ran an ad, it wanted complete cooperation throughout its region. I made my mark by getting all the franchises to cooperate and then making the call on the chain headquarters. Before long, we were being featured regularly by all of the chains. Meantime, things were happening back home in Rockford. Things that were to affect my future in the soft drink business.

More next week

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue

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