Summer Jobs and the Wolfe Enterprises

by Suzy Millar Miller

  

The story begins when I met my future husband, Chuck, at Ohio University in Zoology class. He was my lab partner, but we didn’t pay much attention to each another until I was on a coffee date with someone else. When my date introduced me to his karate instructor, both Chuck and I said, “We’re lab partners,” at the same time. After that we dated regularly and then in May 1967, we decided to get married. 


After I returned home from OU, my parents asked, “How do you expect to afford marriage?” I said Chuck was going to graduate school and I was going to get a job. At this point, my father pointed out that I had never even had a job - other than babysitting. So began my journey of learning how to work for a living.


It was hard to find a job with no experience at all. I started out being an usherette at the RKO Grand on State Street in Columbus. Somehow, I found out that they were hiring with a Reynoldsburg connection through the Bender family. The job was simple. Get to the theater, grab a flashlight and show people to available seats, then clean up afterward. The pay was about 50 cents an hour. So, for a six-hour job I would make $3.00 a night. Not a great plan; first I had to get to downtown Columbus every night and then somehow make it all the way back home. 


The other problem was there was only one movie playing the whole time I worked there. The movie was Grand Prix,which was made in 1966 in a revolutionary 70mm Cinerama format. The screen was so huge, and it showed every hair and pore on the faces of James Garner, Jessica Walter, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, and Toshiro Mifuna. One of the problems of having this grand movie playing all the time is that after a while I knew every breath, sigh, engine roar, gear change, and action before it happened. Fortunately, there were a lot of us usherettes, so we would get together at the back of the theater and tell ghost stories during the movie. This was not going to be the job that would help me get married! I think I quit within a couple weeks, but I still remember every breath in Grand Prix!


Next, I heard that they needed a breakfast cook at Green Gables in the Burg. I wrote about this adventure in the January, 2019, Courier in an article about Carl Whitmer. I worked at Green Gables the rest of the summer for 75 cents an hour from 6 a.m. to noon. This job allowed me the freedom to hang out at the swimming pool in the afternoons and then find other employment in the evening.


The best job I ever had in my life only happened when there was an event at The Wigwam on Route 204. I did many different tasks for the events and enjoyed every one.


The Wigwam was a 63-acre lodge owned by the Wolfe family as a country retreat. The Wolfe family owned the Columbus Dispatch, WBNS, banks, and other entities in Columbus. The call sign of WBNS (channel 10) represents - Wolfe, Banks, News, and Shoes. Robert Frederick Wolfe came to Columbus in 1888 and found work as a shoemaker. He then started Wolfe Brothers Shoe Company. In 1903, he and his brother, Harry Preston Wolfe, bought the Ohio State Journal and then in 1905 acquired The Columbus Dispatch. The Dispatch was originally start-ed in Columbus in 1871 by a group of printers who had named it The Daily Dispatch. The Dispatch remained in the Wolfe family for 110 years.


WBNS radio originally had a call sign of WCAH, founded in 1922. The Columbus Dispatch purchased the station in 1929 and changed the call sign to WBNS in 1934. One of my favorite WBNS radio teams was Jack and Dick Zipf who referred to their station as “W-BEANS”. They were an entertaining morning drive-time pair who talked endlessly about “beautiful Obetz” and “the Obetz Arms” (imaginary hotel) with their favorite phrase, “Yeah, Boy”. 


WBNS TV started in 1949 and is one of the few stations in the country that has had the same owner, call letters, and primary network affiliation throughout its history. Some of the shows on WBNS were: Flippo the Clown, Luci’s Toyshop, Franz the Toymaker, The Judge, Hanna’s Ark (Jack Hanna), and Fritz the Night Owl. Chuck White was on Luci’s Toyshop as puppet master, co-producer, co-writer, the voice of Mr. Tree and many other characters. White was a college roommate of Fritz (the Night Owl) Peerenboom and was one of Ohio’s first African-American TV personalities. 


Comedian Jonathan Winters, known as Johnny Winters, promoted Gambrinus Beer in the early 1950s for August Wagner Breweries, Inc. Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” started his career on WBNS. Other memorable reporters were Tom Ryan (anchor), Joe Holbrook (weather), Marty DeVictor (sports), and Chet Long (anchorman). 


The Wolfe family sold The Columbus Dispatch in 2015. In 2019, the Dispatch sold its broadcasting assets (WBNS) to Tegna, Inc. for $535 million in cash. These sales ended a 90-year Wolfe family involvement in local media. In June, 2018, for $2.7 million, Wolfe Enterprises sold The Wigwam to Violet Township for community use. The sale of The Wigwam brings me back to my “best job ever” story.


 In 1927 the Wolfe family bought 20 acres to use as a family retreat and hunting lodge. The property expanded over the years. The original lodge reminded people of the Native American Indians in the area, so it was named The Wigwamand was decorated with Indian themed artifacts. Over the years the Wolfe family invited employees from The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS to attend events along with many notable people such as Bob Hope, Gene Autry, General William C. Westmoreland, Betsy Palmer, Woody Hayes, and many others.


My mom, Maebelle Millar, worked there often as a cook because she was a school cook in the Reynoldsburg schools. My aunt, Evelyn Cashdollar Millar, worked as a waitress and also as a housekeeping person. I was invited to help out whenever I could. Sometimes I would help my aunt clean the lodge, bunkhouse, and property manager’s house. It was amazing that I could clean cobwebs out of those old windows on one day and the next day the spiders had rebuilt everything! The bunkhouse was used for overnight guests and for changing clothes for the various events. I still remember picking up wet bathing suits off the floor in that building. I also helped my aunt hang wallpaper in the manager’s house which was occupied by Jewel and Paul Griffith and their daughter, Sue (Hostenske) at the time. 


The buildings were amazing with lots of Native American scenes painted on the walls and old furniture made of unusual objects. It was so much fun to clean everything, because everything had meaning. The bar back was beautiful and was difficult to dust. We would polish the brass footrest in front of the bar. I truly enjoyed working every part of the lodge.


I also tried my hand at being a waitress one night. It was not my cup of tea. The guests were a lot more experienced at eating out than I was at trying to serve them. I also did a few events as a cook – well more of a prep cook and it was fun. The cooks all joked and cooked and laughed and got everything out on time. 


At some point, I knew that My ABSOLUTE, BEST JOB EVER was being a dishwasher at The Wigwam. I’ve been a typesetter, a reporter, a programmer, an auditor, a technical writer, a creative writer, a business controls leader, and a manufacturing worker. I’ve been paid a lot more, and I’ve been paid less, but nothing has ever been as wonderful as washing dishes at The Wigwam. 


The waitresses scraped the plates into giant trash cans and put them on the stainless-steel counter and then my job would begin. I can’t describe the joy I had grasping the giant spray handle and giving a stack of dishes a healthy rinse while steam rose all around me. I would load the dishes into giant trays, shove them around the corner of the counter, open the big Hobart machine that washed the dishes, pull the clean ones out, push the dirty dishes in while slamming the lid closed, and start the washing process while I prepared myself for the next phase. I would unload the trays of hot, newly washed dishes into stacks and then slip and slide my way into the storage area where waitresses and cooks were frantically pulling out clean dishes they needed at the time. It was always nip and tuck, but we had a great system to have everything ready and where an item was needed. 


The glasses were a little tricky because I had to check for lipstick marks before the glasses could go in the dishwasher. The silverware was a blast. The waitresses would throw the dirty silverware into pans I had prepared with hot water, a piece of silver foil, baking soda, and a little salt. Before I would run a tray of silverware, I would check each piece for large food particles. After the silverware was washed, I would sort it into containers, so the spoons, forks, and knives were all separated and carry them to the pantry. 


The cooks mostly took care of their own pans, but I did help them out in between the courses while the waitresses brought more dishes. It was so fun to have the freedom to make a mess, even knowing I would clean and dry everything when the evening was finished. 


Another wonderful part of that job is that I got to eat what the guests were eating. If they were having lobster and steak, so did I. Or if they had Chicken Cordon Bleu, that was my meal, too! The food was outstanding and of top quality. The cooks knew what they were doing and made sure everything was prepared correctly. I remember one of my favorite desserts at The Wigwam was something extremely simple–pink peppermint ice cream with a homemade, rich chocolate sauce. I’ve never been able to replicate that exact taste. They probably were using Cummins ice cream and a secret family sauce. 


The bartender would come in the kitchen to get clean glassware and then return later with my drink order. I didn’t have more than one or two drinks a night because I was too busy flinging my body and water all over the dishwashing area. 


Then at the end of the night, after everything was cleaned up and we prepared to go home, Paul Griffith would come in the kitchen and pay us in cash for our jobs. I would get $20 for my evening of happiness along with great food, drinks, and laugh-ter. I never worked anywhere else that was so rewarding.


There were other perks the staff had at The Wigwam in the form of employee parties where we could swim in the tomahawk shaped swimming pool and bask in the sun. The best part of the pool was the fountain where a lion “spit” into the pool. 


Chuck and I were married in September 1967 after my father figured I could actually hold down a job. We moved to Cincinnati where I got a job with Mabley & Carew as a seller of neckties. When we moved to Texas years later and had a big swimming pool in our back yard, the first thing Chuck said about the pool is that we need to have a lion statue fountain to spit into the pool. We never found one, but we always imagined the lion was there.


Can you imagine having a better job than washing dishes? I can’t. Funny thing is that I don’t use my dishwasher at home (no fun). I do all my dishes by hand and I enjoy it, probably because my mother conned me into believing that washing dishes by hand keeps your fingernails long and strong. I do have a sprayer with my sink, but I don’t have the stainless-steel counters and walls to spray water everywhere. Sigh.


My thanks to Sue Griffith Hostenske and Mary Turner Stoots for obtaining The Wigwam photos. 

The photo above is of Chuck and Suzy Miller on their wedding day in 1967

Suzy & Chuck Miller on their wedding day in 1967
Suzy & Chuck Miller on their wedding day in 1967