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July 24, 2003

Scaife Survivors: Long-term service results in long-term friendship

They call themselves “The Scaife Survivors”: 15 current Pitt staff employees and three former staffers who boast of a whopping 490 years of combined service to the University.

At one time or another, each Survivor has worked in the medical school’s Department of Medicine, most of which is housed in Scaife Hall — hence, the group’s nickname.

Twice a year, they gather at local eateries such as Del’s, the Pleasure Bar and the Elbow Room, where they renew friendships, swap news and gossip and, occasionally, annoy fellow diners with their rowdiness.

“We do have a good time,” Lou Duerring admitted. “We were told we were too loud at the Pleasure Bar once.” Characteristically, Duerring blamed fellow Scaife Survivor Linda Marts. “I said, ‘We can’t help it: Linda can’t hear!’”

Six charter Survivors sat down last week with University Times staff writer Peter Hart to reminisce about the group and reflect on their service to Pitt.

Younger staff members be warned: As the following excerpts make clear, Scaife Survivors are not exactly enamored of your work ethic….

University Times: Have you witnessed changes in the workplace at Pitt over the years?

Judy Webb: Oh, definitely. I think as a group we’re still loyal, still dedicated to our jobs. But the newer employees, the younger ones, they work within a bubble, and they don’t get outside their personal job descriptions.

Joan Neitznick: It’s very confusing to me, because now I’m in a managerial position. And I have people come to me complaining that they have to do these grant proposals — on a computer! I say to them, you’re lucky you don’t have to do it on a typewriter like I did.

Betty Edwards: It’s like going that extra mile on your job. But some of the problem, I think, unfortunately, is that doing that is not appreciated.

Beverly Knasko: Or at least it’s not as appreciated as much any more.

Judy Webb: Right. Even 10 years later if I run into [my former boss] he’ll remember my husband’s name and ask how the kids were doing.

Beverly Knasko: I think it’s a cultural thing. People work eight hours and that’s it. They walk away from it, where a lot of us made friends through work. We saw each other after 5 o’clock, and we often stayed and helped after 5 o’clock.

Linda Marts: There’s also a change in workplace ethics. This is not unique to Pitt. But it used to be we really did have a good time and there was such a teamwork attitude. Betty and I worked together and Judy and I worked together, and we’d cover for each other, for whatever reason, no questions asked. The value to me of the Scaife Survivors is that, if I need something, I can still rely on these people and trust them to help me get a job done

Joan Neitznick: I’ll give you an example of that. Three years ago, when I took this job at [Pittsburgh Cancer Institutes] I was doing something I’d never done before, and the transition was very easy, because when I needed to find out how to do a particular form I was able to think of somebody [in this group] I knew who was good at that. And everybody you call who knows you is willing to take the time to get you through it.

When I left my old job, I felt so guilty leaving Bev and my previous boss, and Judy was looking for a job at the time.

Judy Webb: And I took your job. And you would walk over from the BST and show me the ropes. I’ll never forget that. You don’t see that kind of help anymore.

Lou Duerring: Three years ago, I asked for a promotion. The department had let an administrator go, and for years I did her job. But I didn’t know how to handle Human Resources. I didn’t know how to write up what I was doing. So I called Linda and Joan and they helped me. And I got the promotion.

University Times: How has Pitt changed from when you first started here? Why do you think you’ve stayed at Pitt so long?

Joan Neitznick: Two years ago my daughter and some of her friends applied here, and even with SAT scores of 1100 and low-B averages they were getting only branch campus acceptance. I got into Pitt with a 940 SAT. So absolutely, it’s improved academically.

Betty Edwards: I think people are much more impressed with Pitt now.

Judy Webb: We’re such a big employer in the city and the reputation has gone up because we’re [affiliated] with UPMC.

Lou Duerring: I started here in 1966, and people would ask, “Are you working at Pitt for the tuition for when your children are college-age?” And quite honestly I was. I started out making $365 a month.

Judy Webb: For me, 25 years ago, coming out of a business program, I was asked “Why don’t you work for one of the companies Downtown?” And I said, “No, I like the benefits.” But most of all I liked my job. For me, the tuition benefits were important: I’ve got two children attending Pitt. But also the friendships, and I really mean that.

Betty Edwards: I’ve enjoyed coming to work for the whole 34 years. I don’t get up every morning and say, “Oh, I’ve got to go to work.” I’ve lost sick days by going over the 120-day limit. I’ve lost about 20 years’ worth.

Judy Webb: You don’t think: How am I am going to call off? We just don’t do that.

Joan Neitznick: Bev and I basically started together as secretaries in the division. We worked together 24 years, and I can honestly say we never argued. We covered each other. So waking up every day knowing there was support and friendship that developed, those were important reasons for staying.

Beverly Knasko: Also none of us had husbands in those days.

Linda Marts: Betty doesn’t now. Are you looking for one? Can we help you find one?

Betty Edwards: No, no. (laughs)

Judy Webb: Well, let us know when you’re ready. (more laughter)

University Times: You’ve spent your professional lives on the upper campus. What would you tell those on the lower campus?

Linda Marts: There was definitely a line of demarcation. For years you’d say you worked on the upper campus and people assumed you made more money and had better benefits. And there used to be a divide between the medical and dental schools. The dental students always were cuter than med students. I can remember, you’d have these young girls, and they’re saying, “Look at him, he’s cute.” And someone else would say, “Yeah, but he’s only going to be a dentist.”

Lou Duerring: Don’t look at me, I married an accountant. (laughter)

University Times: What are some of the workplace challenges you’ve faced?

Betty Edwards: When you work with somebody side by side, or even under you, and that person has been elevated to be over you. Sometimes you actually trained them. That’s difficult.

Linda Marts: Too much middle management. Too many chiefs. And I think there are some threats to long-term employees, which means us. We are under-appreciated University-wide.

Judy Webb: They have no idea what we do. You can’t put the value of what we do on paper in black and white or on any performance evaluation.

University Times: The commonality you feel for each other carries over to your out-of-the-office activities, too?

Judy Webb: Oh my gosh, yes! Well past 5 o’clock. Rides to work. Rides to Seven Springs. We’ve been at each others’ weddings and family events.

Lou Duerring: It’s such a good feeling. These are my best friends, truly. And it’s not like you have to see them or talk to them every day, but you know you can rely on them.

Beverly Knasko: But it took us a long time to establish the Survivors group. I think most of us were already here 20 years, and the first couple of dinners were more getting caught up on families.

Betty Edwards: It was also a group where you could always talk out your problems.

Linda Marts: You might call it a bitch session! (laughter)

Judy Webb: Not just that, because it included discussion of different ways to look at a situation. We might be totally agreeing. We might be offering reinforcement. It’s a support group for all kinds of things.

Linda Marts: Or sometimes, it’s giving advice on how to handle a particular person. “I’ve been there, done that. Here’s what you need to do.”

Beverly Knasko: That’s exactly what the Survivors are: We’re a tradition; we’ve got history.

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