Monday, September 4, 2017

Ancestors at Work

Today is Labor Day, the day we set aside annually to pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.  Thanks to a suggestion by a fellow blogger, it’s also a day to take a look at my ancestors at work.

First up, of course, is my dad, Gordon Levy.  Dad was what many would describe as a workaholic – he worked full time until the day he died on, coincidentally, Labor Day at the age of 78.

Dad started his career in 1951 with Dean Witter, where the financial advisors of the future were then known as a Customers Men.  I remember visiting Dad at his office on 1st Street in San Jose when there was no electronic board to keep track of the stock quotes – rather, there was a boardmarker who kept track of things using a giant chalkboard and chalk.  I don’t know that I have a photo of him specifically at work, but I do know that he always wore a suit and matching hat to work.

Gordon Levy c 1960

After 23 years in the business, Dad decided there was more to life than Dean Witter and decided to follow his dear friend, Ron James, to work at the San Jose Chamber of Commerce and Convention Visitors Bureau.  By that time I was out of the house so I don’t know too much about his day-to-day work there, but I do remember that he loved traveling around the country on one Chamber mission or another.  And I found a photo of one of those trips.

My beautiful picture

After 10 years, during which time he had a heart attack and bypass surgery, he took a pause and decided it was time to go back to Dean Witter (by then Morgan Stanley) where he finished his career.  What a change in the business over his lifetime – I remember he used to tell me to NOT send him an e-mail because he wasn’t sure how to reply.

As we were growing up, Mom stayed at home – back in those days she was labeled a Housewife.  Of course that term has long ago been forgotten but I know she was pretty content with her life. 

I don’t remember her ever gardening but maybe she did?  If nothing else, she posed for a picture and passed the gardening gene on to my sister.

Page 8 - Our Mother

We were fortunate that we lived around the corner from the elementary school, however there were a few years where my sister and I went to out of area schools for different programs.  I remember riding my bike to/from school but I also remember Mom driving us.  Of course it’s not like what parents of today go through but I’m sure it was a task to get us each to wherever we needed to be.  She must have felt like she lived in the car!

My beautiful picture

My grandfather, Sig Levy, worked in real estate/insurance services in the family business, Levy Brothers.  An early photo of their office – that’s Sig second from the right.

Levy Bros Office 1920

He also worked until his death at age 80.  I think the “work until you die” mentality needs to end with me!

Sig Levy Bros 2

Sig’s father, Herman Levy, started his career running a dry goods store and later worked in insurance.  I haven’t come across a photo of him at work but I like to think this photo was taken in order to feature him in the insurance business.  Sadly, it was also used for his obituary.

Herman Levy

My paternal grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, came from a family business in Monterey, The White House.  While she helped out in the store during her teenage years, it was her dad, Abraham, and her grandfather, Ferdinand Gunzendorfer, who ran the store for more than 50 years.

White House Black_White

Here’s Ferdinand (with beard) in front of the store.

White House Ferdinand Cropped

My maternal grandmother, Clara Fitzgerald, and her second husband, Sheldon Hunter, worked out of their home raising chickens!  I have great memories of being there with them and helping them collect, clean, and packaging eggs.  I wrote a post about that HERE

Here’s Grandma candeling the eggs.

Clara candling eggs

And with Grandpa Shell in the packaging plant (aka garage). 

Cary Levy_Sheldon Hunter_Debi Levy

A few years ago I found a newspaper article from the Fresno Bee, September 27, 1959 that I thought was interesting.

Fresno Bee Sunday Sept 27 1959

New Occupation – Sheldon Hunter, a retired Fresno telegrapher, has found that “wire” means more than a telegram.  Here Hunter inspects his recently constructed wire cage house for his West Olive Avenue flock of White Leghorn layers.

Retired Telegrapher Finds Poultry Flock Demands Work

When Sheldon A. Hunter of 2341 West Olive Avenue, Fresno, retired in 1955 as manager of the Fresno office of Western Union, he recalls he did not know the difference between a laying hen and a bantam chicken.

Today the grey haired Hunter is the knowledgeable owner and operator of a 2,000 bird egg laying flock, who maintains he “never worked harder, made less or felt better.”

Hunter and his charming wife, Clara, bought the one-acre layout two and a half years ago when it included only 600 hens.  They have expanded cautiously and only recently constructed a new cement floored laying house featuring the latest in wire cage operation.

Hunter, whose Western Union career covered 47 years, including 35 years in Fresno, credits feed company salesmen and breeder representatives with a big hand in helping him learn the poultry business.

“We thought this would be an interesting part time occupation,” Hunter grins, “but we find there is always something to do, repair or change.  And these birds need a lot of care.  But we like the idea of keeping busy.”

Meet Their Customers

Since all the Hunter eggs are sold directly from the small combination garage and egg processing room, the retired couple enjoy meeting people who stop to purchase the eggs.

Mrs. Hunter chuckles as she recalls a visit by a 10 year old neighbor girl.

“She wanted to borrow three eggs because her mother was baking a cake and didn’t have enough,” she says.  “But she assured me she would soon return them because her mother was going downtown and would buy some there.”

Have Fruit Trees

Along with the modest sized poultry setup, the Hunters are proud of their variety of fruit trees, ranging from figs to persimmons, a vegetable garden and boysenberry vines.

While the Hunter operation ranks quite small as compared to some of Fresno County’s sprawling commercial laying establishments, the owners keep abreast of the latest breeding developments.  They are grooming a new experimental White Leghorn strain obtained from Washington State which is said to lay larger eggs for specialized poultrymen who have a market for them.

And that’s a tribute to my #ancestorsatwork!


  1. Not sure if my comment went through as the page did something wonky. So...anyway, I said I got a kick out of the photo of your dad in Provincetown as we spend a lot of time there each summer. When was that taken? Maybe we passed on the street. Fun post!

    1. He was with the Chamber of Commerce in the 1980's so my best guess is that it was taken then. I tell you - one day we're going to connect the dots and find a connection.

  2. Well, I was definitely there in the 1980s, so perhaps I passed him on the street! And yes, there's a connection---even if it's not a genetic one. (And there's always Scott!)

    1. Ha! Scott was just in my office the other day and he didn't even stop to say hi :-(

  3. I will yell at him! I will be coming to Seattle for my next mini-college reunion in May 2018!