ITHACA, NY – This past weekend, Alaskan singer-songwriter Marian Call asked her fans about their first seven jobs on Twitter.

This kicked off the hashtag #SevenFirstJobs, which quickly blew up on Twitter, getting responses from notable figures including legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin (who started out as a dishwasher), comedian Stephen Colbert (who worked construction and built futons in his youth) and Hamilton writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda (who was a fast food worker, a nude model, and a teacher).

The hashtag proved popular as a sometimes inspirational (and sometimes depressing) look at the strange career paths taken by many, including some of the world’s most successful people.

We at The Voice thought it might be fun to trace the paths of some notable Ithacans and Tompkins residents. We reached out to several local officials, business leaders and owners, and community members to hear about their first seven jobs.

Here’s the list:

Business and community figures

Ryan McGuire, founder of Bells Design

  1. Paper Boy
  2. Car Cleaner/Detailer
  3. Nursing Home Kitchen Worker
  4. Bill Collector
  5. Property and Casualty Insurance Agent
  6. Sales and Marketing Director
  7. Self Employed Graphic and Web Designer

Chris Kirby, founder and president of Ithaca Hummus

  1. Dishwasher
  2. Bus Boy
  3. Valet Driver
  4. Wing Boy at Hooters
  5. Cook
  6. Server
  7. Auditor

Jennifer Tavares, President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce

  1. Burger King
  2. College newspaper layout/editor
  3. NYS DEC enviro ed center staff
  4. Co-op cashier and stock person
  5. Sales for a small soap manufacturer
  6. Radio advertising sales
  7. Retail gift/garden dept manager

Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting, Inc.

  1. Dishwasher at Foster’s Coach House Tavern, Rhinebeck, NY
  2. Kitchen Assistant at The Anderson School, Staatsburg, NY
  3. Mainframe computer parts inventory intern at IBM Corp. Poughkeepsie, NY
  4. Research intern at the Department of Medical Viral Oncology, Roswell Park Memorial Institute Buffalo, NY
  5. Toxics Project Coordinator, New York Public Interest Research Group, New York, NY
  6. President of Toxics Targeting, Inc., Ithaca, NY

Peter Bardaglio, Founder of Seneca Strategic Consulting and President of Black Oak Wind Farm

  1. Picking shade-grown tobacco in the Connecticut River Valley
  2. Lumber millhand at West Hartford Stairs & Cabinets
  3. Reporter at weekly newspaper in Connecticut
  4. Research/writer at New England River Basin Commission in Boston
  5. Delivery truck driver for Saks Fifth Avenue in Palo Alto
  6. Library assistant in the American-British Law Division at Library of Congress in Washington, DC
  7. Visiting lecturer in U.S. history, University of Maryland – College Park

Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance

  1. my first effort to make money for myself was an entrepreneurial venture, as a 11-12 year old picking strawberries at a local farm and selling them in front of our house to passersby
  2. Still young, as a teen I had a lawn mowing business mowing the lawns of several nearby properties. It was hot work, but I appreciated the cash.
  3. My first formal job. I worked as a dishwasher and table busser at a steak house
  4. I got a job at an Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chip fast food restaurant as a cook
  5. When I went to college, I needed to work as well. I got a work study job in the Bates College dining hall, again back in the dish room. I just could not seem to escape dishwashing as a livelihood
  6. One summer while I was in college, my father helped me apply for and get a summer job at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, Connecticut.
  7. After falling for Lisa in the dining hall dish room my senior year, I took the summer to live near her in Boston, residing with a friend of mine who was attending MIT that summer. I lived clandestinely in the  MIT dorm with him and his buddies and talked myself into a job at a large Italian restaurant on old Route One north of Boston as a cook

(Note: Gary wrote a much longer and more detailed version of job history that is very interesting, but we didn’t want it taking up the whole page. Click the tab below to read it.)

[su_spoiler title=”Long version of Gary Ferguson’s #FirstSevenJobs” icon=”chevron-circle”]

Most of us start at the beginning and I surely did…

  1. Actually, my first effort to make money for myself was an entrepreneurial venture, as a 11-12 year old picking strawberries at a local farm and selling them in front of our house to passersby.  I didn’t get rich but it exposed me to the benefits of having a few dollars in my pocket.
  2.  Still young, as a teen I had a lawn mowing business mowing the lawns of several nearby properties. It was hot work, but I appreciated the cash.
  3. This was my first formal job. I worked as a dishwasher and table busser at a steak house. My high school friend was already working at the place and helped give me a good word. The work was hot, sweaty and I was without question the lowest person on the job totem pole. But I learned the rigors of the work place and gained a real appreciation for the hard work done by those behind the scenes.
  4. My career in food service was beginning. I got a job at an Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chip fast food restaurant as a cook. I burned more skin off my arms than I care to think about, but I enjoyed the upgrade from dishwashing. I learned to do all phases of the work at the establishment and was eventually promoted to an assistant manager at another Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips about an hour from our home. Helping to run the operation was exciting for a young kid and I learned a great deal about budgets, payroll, and supervision. I was really getting tired of fried fish and the ridiculous commute in my beat up Ford Falcon car, but the experience in retrospect was golden.
  5. When I went to college, I needed to work as well. I got a work study job in the Bates College dining hall, again back in the dish room. I just could not seem to escape dishwashing as a livelihood. But it was in the dish room at this dining hall that I met the young woman who would become my life partner- Lisa. It certainly made going to work a fun and much anticipated part of my day.
  6. One summer while I was in college, my father helped me apply for and get a summer job at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, Connecticut. My dad was a Pratt lifer— he worked 38 years first as a mechanic and later as a production floor foreman. It was a time when people stayed in one place and kept one job for their entire working life. He was excited I was accepted into the summer program and we drove in together when he was on the day shift, Pratt & Whitney was another world onto itself. At that time the plant, which made aircraft engines and parts, employed some 20,000+ people. When I arrived on day one, I was shown to a production line and my job was to off load parts from a conveyer belt, put them in a wagon, and haul them 100 feet or so to their next destination. Not heady work… to be sure, Being a somewhat bright, young man, I quickly discovered that this repetitive eight hour a day job could be readily done in  two hours. That realization was also observed by the senior workers of the line who immediately hauled me before the foreman and general foreman of the area. It was day two and I was about to lose my summer job for being too quick and thinking too much. But fate was indeed on my side. The general foreman took pity on my brainless work ethic and they created a new job for me that very moment. I became a parts expediter. They gave a tricycle with a big cargo basket and my job became troubleshooting and tracing parts throughout the factory. The drudge became an incredible opportunity. On my trike, I could navigate the one mile plus expanse of the plant, playing Sherlock Holmes, and chasing down orders and parts that were lost and misplaced . It became a great summer and I got an amazing education into the world of American factory mass production.
  7. After falling for Lisa in the dining hall dish room my senior year, I took the summer to live near her in Boston, residing with a friend of mine who was attending MIT that summer. I lived clandestinely in the  MIT dorm with him and his buddies and talked myself into a job at a large Italian restaurant on old Route One north of Boston as a cook. Day one was nearly a disaster when  I was asked to beat and prepare some eggs. Well, I had never cracked open an egg before and did not know how to accomplish this simple task. But, not wanting to lose the job, I proceeded to invent my own style and within a short while became a proficient, albeit temporary chef for the summer.

Seven jobs and not a career in sight. Eventually, as I got into graduate school and beyond I took jobs in government and began learning the ropes of community development and eventually downtown revitalization…. my career for the past thirty some years. But my work habits, my skills working with people, my customer service commitment, my management and budgeting background all emerged from those early formative jobs. Nothing was beneath me. I saw what I could aspire to and what I did not want to do with my life.[/su_spoiler]

Gay Nicholson, President of Sustainable Tompkins
  1. Fuller Brush door-to-door salesgirl
  2. Small grocery store cashier
  3. Tastee Freeze window server (got fired for organizing the labor!)
  4. Waitress
  5. Gas station clerk
  6. KMart clerk
  7. Camera store manager

Nia Michelle Nunn, Assistant Professor of Education at Ithaca College and Interim Director of Southside Community Center

  1. Babysitting
  2. GreenStar cashier
  3. YES worker at GIAC camp
  4. Hip Hop Aerobics instructor at City Health Club
  5. Alex Haley Municipal Pool ~  Lifeguard
  6. Ballet/Tap/Jazz instructor- Atlanta, GA
  7. Waitress ~ Mick’s Restaurant – Atlanta, GA

Autumn Greenberg, co-owner of The Rook

  1. Art Gallery Attendant
  2. Camp Counselor
  3. Ropes course facilitator
  4. Outdoor education assistant director
  5. Sales assistant
  6. Barback/bartender
  7. Web support specialist

Local officials

Ithaca 1st ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock

  1. Data entry/clerical
  2. Survey crew/administrative (Yep – my dad had a survey firm and starting from the age of 12 I would work in his office after school and during the summer entering payroll, filing and answering phones for a dollar an hour. It seemed like a lot of money back then!)
  3. Clerical/administrative
  4. Delivery driver
  5. Bus Driver
  6. Canvasser
  7. Waitress

Ithaca 1st ward Alderperson George McGonigal

  1. My first job was working on my best friend’s parents’ fruit farm in Hector.  In summer we brought in hay bales, in the winter we pulled brush in the vineyards.
  2. I worked at a small milk plant in Watkins Glen the first summer out of high school.  Mostly cleaning equipment with an acid solution.   Low pay, long hours.  Miserable work.
  3. Following the devastating Flood of 1972, I worked for the NYS Soil Conservation Service, planting trees and re-grading damaged stream banks, as well as traveling with a “company” of pals to Wilkes Barre, PA., where we installed skirting on HUD trailer homes in flood damaged neighborhoods.  Very good money.
  4. I worked for a lakeside contractor, Schamel Brothers, building wooden docks and steel retaining walls on Seneca Lake.
  5. Right out of college, I went to work for Taylor Wine Company as a vineyard worker on one of their farms.  Lots of tractor work.
  6. Taught middle school health education for 3 years.  Who knows why…
  7. Moved to Ithaca and took a job as a painter.

Ithaca 2nd ward Alderperson Ducson Nguyen

  1. Cashier at McDonald’s
  2. Teller at Commerce Bank (now TD Bank)
  3. Web developer at Rutgers University
  4. Software engineer at Computer Sciences Corporation
  5. Software engineer at L-3 Communications
  6. Software engineer at GrammaTech

Ithaca 2nd ward Alderperson Seph Murtagh

  1. Vineyard worker (at various vineyards on Seneca Lake)
  2. Warehouse worker (at Regional Access)
  3. Micro-fridge delivery guy (crazy job, still have a bum shoulder as a result of lugging these things up stairs in college dormitories across upstate New York)
  4. Caretaker at the Cayuga Nature Center (big job that I was kind of a disaster at, I don’t know why they let me do it, I was only 18)
  5. Camp counselor (at Cayuga Nature Center, did this summers during high school)
  6. Synthesizer instructor (at T-burg conservatory of fine arts when I was fourteen)
  7. Library worker (in college in Ireland)

Ithaca 5th ward Alderperson and Acting Mayor Deb Mohlenhoff

  1. Gas Station Convenience Store Attendant
  2. Summer Camp Director
  3. Receptionist at a Realtor’s office
  4. Eggs to Order cook, Towers Dining Hall
  5. Student Union Operations Manager
  6. Assistant Director for Community Service, Ithaca College
  7. Director, Student Center, TC3

Ithaca 5th ward Alderperson Josephine Martell

  1. Babysitter
  2. Waitress
  3. Flower seller
  4. Circus serving staff
  5. Event organizer
  6. Writer
  7. Editor

Ulysses Town Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas

  1. Ironing my dad’s shirts – 27 cents a piece
  2. Cleaning rooms at the Varna Inn – she said I was too thorough and to speed it up.
  3. Cleaning, cooking and laundry for a wealthy couple who owned an island off the coast of Maine. We had 2 hour lunches by the water everyday. Had to drive the boat to the grocery store. Sometimes I miss that job!
  4. Waitress – first waitress job starting at 5am; second ending at 2am. Mostly all the correct orders.
  5. Technician at the National Seed Storage Laboratory – bombed ourselves by accident using liquid nitrogen to freeze seeds in cans. Whoops!
  6. Assistant at the Cornell vegetable farm in Freeville–started rabble rousing about the lack of protective gear for  us mere field workers who had to enter the fields right after the pesticide sprayers had gone through. Nothing like a 20 year old’s righteous indignation.
  7. Crop Consultant for Seneca Foods – doing what? Working to reduce the use of pesticides, of course. And guess what–all the guys on the sprayers had protective gear within a year after I was hired.

Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing)

  1. Busboy
  2. Lifeguard
  3. Rented mini refrigerators to students
  4. Drove an ice cream truck.  Yes, the kind with the music
  5. Industrial roofer
  6. Overnight “reporter” with the Patriot ledger
  7. Associate with CNBC

Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden)

  1. Selling Christmas trees in my parents’ nursery business
  2. Summer camp counselor ($70 for the summer)
  3. Clerk in registrar’s office at NYU
  4. Nursery school aide
  5. Researcher for Prof. Urie Bronfenbrenner at Cornell
  6. Elementary school teacher’s aide
  7. Kindergarten teacher in day care center

Ithaca Police Chief John Barber

  1. Carroll’s Tire – Ithaca
  2. Bob Baker Custom Kitchens – Ithaca
  3. Ron Chapman Construction – Ithaca
  4. Certified Properties of Ithaca
  5. NYS Department of Corrections
  6. Ithaca Police Department

(Featured photo courtesy of Flickr)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.