As I look back,
I marvel at all the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done, the people I’ve worked with, and am thankful that I lived through it.
In 1949, I was two years old and my mother was dreaming that I had contracted polio. Over 20,000
children a year were infected with the virus and no vaccine was available. We lived in Navy housing in Norfolk, Virginia with lots of other children my age.
My Aunt Ethel was sitting in the kitchen getting ready for high school about 6:30 in the morning. I was standing on the couch and trying to light one of my mother’s cigarettes. The match fell out of my hand and landed on my pajama top. It immediately caught on fire. My aunt heard my attempts to pat out the fire, turned and screamed.
My mother awoke and immediately thought, “Oh my God, George has polio!”
She ran into the living room; saw me on fire and thought, “Thank God!”
Six corpsmen at the base infirmary held me down while the doctor peeled the charred skin away, swabbed me with Vaseline and wrapped me in gauze. I don’t remember getting anything for the pain.
I returned to the infirmary when I walked into a swing my sister was riding high. She was standing up in one of those wooden swings that you could set an infant in and pumping it for all it was worth. It split my face open. Another of my mom’s sisters, Aunt Betty, who was nine month’s pregnant, took me to the Navy base.
I’m not real sure, but the scars probably helped as I started my first business. The Korean conflict had begun and the Navy sent our fathers back to sea. For candy money, my buddies and I would pick Butter Cups, make bouquets of them, pull them around in a red wagon and sell them for five cents each. I remember telling a lady that “this is my last one.” She gave me a quarter and told me to keep it. When we were older, we caught dozens of blue crabs and took them around in the wagon and sold them for .05¢ to .14¢ apiece (the bigger the better). The scar on my left thumb is where the three stitches were put after I reached in the basket to show my mom the biggest blue crab I had ever caught.
We moved to Sanford when I was nine and I started selling the Grit newspaper. I didn’t make much so Iadded greeting cards and cans of salve to my inventory. Mowing yards for $3 was too hard because of the junkie mowers my dad would buy. They were too hard to start. It turns out that picking up coke and milk bottles for the deposit was a better way to make money.
In the ninth grade I started delivering the Orlando Sentinel to homes in downtown Sanford. I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and ride three and half miles to pick up my papers – rain or shine. The Sentinel would put the number of pages in each addition in the upper right hand corner of the front page. We would fold the small ones, but had to use huge rubber bands on the bigger ones. It was always a thrill to see how many pages they could stuff in the Thanksgiving Day paper. I quit my route after my Science teacher threatened me if I fell asleep in his class again.
A & P Groceries opened a new store a few blocks from my house. They hired half the boys in town to help stock and bag groceries when it opened. Tipping the bagboy was an accepted practice then, especially if you wanted your eggs unbroken. Payday was real cool because they gave you the money in small brown envelopes. Unfortunately, three months later they fired 75% of the workforce.
That worked out well for me though because I made the track team at Seminole High School and had to practice after school. I was also on the tumbling team the rest of the year. I took a job as the janitor for Ebenezer Methodist Church in Sunland Estates. I went there with my girlfriend and her family when I wasn’t at Grace Methodist with my family. I went to State both years I was on the track team and set the school record for high hurdles. I just wanted the letter jacket.
I was paid $5 a week to clean the two church buildings. I swept, mopped and put the metal chairs pack in neat rows. I usually spent two more hours on the piano and organ. I made up my own system for the notes. I numbered them. The five bucks bought my tickets to the football games, got me in the victory dance afterwards, and paid for my lunch at school if I didn’t bring a sack from home. I’m still waiting for a tip from the couple that got married and destroyed the building.
When I graduated from SHS, I worked for J.D. Construction on the Navy base with my brother Sonnyand Billy Kuykendall. We laid the drainage pipes for the runways and poured the concrete for the tunnel that went under Golden Lake Road and into Golden Lake (it’s still there). I had to lie about my age to get the job. I got in trouble when I told the foreman that I had to have time off to go register for the draft. He shouted, “What, you said that you were eighteen.” He rambled on about this being a federal worksite and I could go to jail. It was true; he had to pay us $1.25 an hour instead of $1 because it was on the Navy base.
In September of 1965 my dad signed a $1,000 loan (that I had to pay off) to get me into Massey Business College in Jacksonville. I took what little I had saved and moved into a boarding house run by Mrs. Rickerson. We called ourselves the Rickerson Rats. For $70 a month we got a bed and three square meals (Sunday was breakfast only). I was studying for a diploma in IBM Accounting.
Jobs were hard to find. Everyone turned me down. I walked into the Western Auto Store at 8th and Main and told the manager the college’s career counselor sent me over for the sales job they had open. He didn’t know what I was talking about (no surprise, I made it up) but hired me anyway. It paid $1.25 an hour plus commission for sales over $100 a week. I was confined to the nuts and bolts section, so the commission was only a dream for me.
I took the Western Auto Salesmen course at night and learned how to jump customers that needed a new set of tires or one of them newfangled color TVs. Appliances was still off limits so I rarely saw a commission working part-time.
I went to college in the morning, worked at Western Auto in the evenings and a buddy got me a job at REA unloading boxcars on the midnight shift for $4.82 an hour. The pay was good, but oranges were ripe and there were a million boxcars filled with cases of oranges headed up north. We literally threw boxes off of the train for eight hours straight. To take a smoke break, we would open a side door and one of us would jump off and smoke. The other one would throw twice as many boxes until it was his turn to smoke. The foreman had a man on each dock counting the boxes as they rolled into the building.
After a week of no sleep I stopped answering the phone when REA called me to work a shift. I moved into a room that cost $6 a week, that had no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall that we all shared. I put a hotplate in my suitcase and ate canned spaghetti, and French bread jelly sandwiches. I was down to about 150 lbs. and white as a sheep. I started stealing scratch offs at the grocery store to help pay the rent.
My cousin Wanda was dating Richard Hittell who was also attending Massey. I moved in with them when they got married to help pay the rent. My bed was a Murphy bed that folded up into the wall in the living room.
In March of 1966 I decided to get married so I looked for a day job and decided to finish school atnight. I got a job working in the mail room of the Federal Reserve Bank. I rented an apartment near school three days before I went home to get married. The first night I had to sleep between the mattress and box springs with my letter jacket and two pairs of jeans on because I hadn’t put a deposit down on the gas, yet. All I could think was how stupid it would look when they found my frozen bones under the mattress.
My starting salary at the bank was $3,000 a year. I didn’t have a car so I paid a taxi fifty cents to get to work at 6:00 in the morning and then I walked the three miles home. After a while, I figured out how the buses ran and rode both ways for the same fifty cents. One day I walked home and took that quarter to buy Kool-Aid (6 for a quarter). I was in high cotton!
My first wife and I moved across town and shared a duplex with Richard and Wanda. I could ride to work with Richard and we could split living expenses. We ate lots of chicken, potatoes and French bread sandwiches. We usually stayed up all Friday night playing games and drinking Pepsi with Sloe Gin.
On November 10, 1966 a lady knocked on the door the same time that my favorite show, Star Trek, came on. I knew she was from the Baptist church down the road. I was rude and closed the door. Later that night I trusted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior in my bed.
We moved to another duplex just before our first son Charlie was born on February 17, 1967. I was promoted to the coin vault at the bank and was making about $4,200 a year. However, I dropped out of school and quit the bank when my dad got me a job reading meters with Florida Power & Light back home in Sanford. I started out making just under $8,000 a year. This was a no-brainer. Jim Warner not only trained me for the job, he taught me how to kill a hog and make sausage.
In five years at FP&L I moved from meter reader to collector. I was active with the youth department at Elder Springs Baptist Church. I realized that even though life was good, eternal life was even better. I decided that I would rather do things that would count for eternity instead of for the short time that I had to live here on earth. I also lost two sons to premature birth this year and knew that the first time that I will see them is in heaven.
So, in January of 1972 we moved to Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania to study for missionary work withNew Tribes Mission. My goal was to be in a support role and hopefully a pilot one day. We had lunch the first day with the director and his family. They served ice water, soup and sandwiches. I leaned over and whispered to my ex-wife, “We ain’t going to like it here.” “Why?” she asked, ”Because they’re poor,” I said, “they don’t even have iced tea!”
Then I found out they had pigs. I was not only the official painter on work detail; I was the one the Game Warden woke up at night when someone hit a deer with their car. I’d skin it out and kill one of the pigs the next day to mix with the venison. We had about 150 people to divvy it up with.
We survived the Susquehanna River flood of 1972, built and lived in a Jungle Camp and witnessed the death one of our pilots and dear friends, Dave Ream when he and his brother were caught in a cross wind during take-off. I was reminded yesterday of how God provided for us when the car broke down in Ashland, Ohio. Big lesson learned that day!
We left New Tribes Mission in Jersey Shore on May 4, 1973 and stopped on the road in Louisville, Kentucky to listen on the radio as Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby. We had a flat tire in Nashville, Tennessee and spent the night at the Grand Ole Opry. (Opening act... Jim Ed Brown.)
A thousand miles later we were in Beeville, Texas. My father-in-law was a Chief in the Navy there. I worked mixing cement for five Mexican brick layers at Bee County Community College to make enough money to return to Florida. When I got back to Sanford, my Aunt Helen’s brother Bill Lee gave me a job nailing on roof shingles. I tried so hard to keep up with him and the preacher’s son Dale that I let a nail turn sideways and cut the tip of my finger – real bad. I tied a rag around the wound and tried to keep up. Every other nail I was nailing the rag to the roof. Bill told me to take it easy; he didn’t expect me to be as good as them until I learned what I was doing. It didn’t help that his seventy year old dad was sitting down and nailing as fast as me.
My father-in-law’s appendix ruptured, so I ended up back in Texas. It was serious there for a while. I got a job laying pipe across Bee County that would send oil from the well field to the storage tanks. I walked behind a big flatbed trailer and pulled the pipe off as the driver pulled slowly down the side of the road. On the way back to the shop the other workers pulled pornography material out from under the seat and shared things that I didn’t know was possible.
I told my father-in-law that I couldn’t work with that crew. First of all, my arms were still frozen in the flexed position from pulling pipe all day and secondly, because I didn’t want to become like them. He had a friend that was the lead singer in a country band that was trying to get him to be their fiddle player. My father-in-law said, “If you’ll give this boy a job, I’ll play in your band the nights I’m not playing with Kathy Dell and the Country Kings.”
The next day I met Roy Maxell and went to work for Gulf Coast Services as their operator trainee. Thecompany had just started and provided the logging and perforating for the oil industry in south Texas. The logging was done by lowering a radio-active source to produce a chart of the oil and gas reserves between ten and twelve thousand feet down. Then we lowered shaped explosives to blow holes or “perforate” the casing of the oil well. Sometimes this produced a gusher and the cable had to be retrieved out of the well before the pressure blew it up and around the derrick. It was impressive to see and tricky to keep two miles of cable from becoming entangled.
The owner of the company also owned most of the land around Refugio, Texas. They made their fortune with cattle. When we didn’t have jobs with the rig, I got to help round up some of the cattle. Once, the Mission River flooded and a small herd was trapped on a small piece of land that may also go under. We rode and swam our horses out there to drive them off, but they wouldn’t budge. Where’s a Colt 45 when you need one. The next thing we knew, the boss’s helicopter buzzed down over us and the herd took to the water like ducks. We just had to guide them in the right direction.
A year later I was logging and perforating by myself and got a raise - $1.95 plus commission! My father-in-law retired from the Navy and moved to Colorado. My second son Casey was born that year and I decided to move back to Sanford. There sure wasn’t anything left in south Texas to keep me there.
I got a job as night shift supervisor at Winn Dixie. We had to unload, price and stock the shelves with the stuff that came in by truck each night. Hey, $3.50 an hour was looking good. I trained at the DeLand store then moved to the Sanford store on First Street two weeks later.
Three months later, in October of 1974, the guys at the Sanford Fire Department talked me into applying for one of the three new positions there. The pay was a little higher and I could go back to roofing with Bill Lee. Bill was a lieutenant on B shift and I worked on A shift. That way someone was always working on the roof. And, he paid five dollars an hour. Later, I went on and started painting on my own and building additions.
I was still a probie on June 10, 1975 when the jail fire happened. It was one of the worst detention fires in history. The jailer and 10 inmates died due to the toxic smoke. Nine inmates were on the opposite of the building and in the last cell block to be opened. They were already dead and stacked up by the door. The jailer, Robert Moore was in his office, across from the exit, trying to get some fresh air from the window A/C that just circulated room air.
On August 15, 1975, my son Corey was born at 23 weeks; four and half months early. He weighed 1 ½pounds and was twelve inches long. He was flown by military life-flight out of Tampa to the Neonatal Unit at Shands Teaching Hospital in Gainesville. He came home four months later and two days before Christmas as the Miracle Baby.
In 1981 I was sitting outside of the fire station waiting for the sun to go down so that I could take down the flag. I thought about my family at home and how I wouldn’t see them until I left my construction work the next night. I decided that the next five years will go by anyway, so I could be sitting here waiting to take down the flag, or I could have a college degree.
In June of 1981, at the age of 34, I moved to Chattanooga and enrolled in Tennessee Temple University. I would pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Education. I had a “promise” of a job making chicken feeders at Cumberland Farms, but they were furloughing workers when I arrived.
Eventually, someone told me they needed an EMT at the hospital in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. I could study when I wasn’t on calls, so I took the job. Hutcheson Medical Center was a trauma center and had a great ER. We grew from two stations in one county to five stations in two counties. I started on the Advanced Life Support Unit in Chickamauga, Georgia.
Casey and I had a lawn mowing business for two summers. We finally decided our time off was worth more than we were charging to mow. So, we went fishing.
October of 1983 we were also blessed to adopt our fourth son Chris, our second year at Temple. Things really got exciting then!
June of 1986 I graduated, Magna Cum Laude and 29th in my class. Dr. Robertson handed me my diploma. It was a great honor to achieve that much. Now that I had a degree I couldn’t wait to get out of the EMT business and 24 hour shifts.
Just then, the Tennessee Valley Authority advertised that they were going to hire and train emergencyresponse teams for all four of their nuclear power plants. You needed to be Firefighter, EMT and have a four year degree… oh, and pass a physical agility test. The team would have three experienced EMT/Firefighters, an Assistant Unit Operator, an Electrician and a Pipe Fitter. We would all be crossed trained in the other’s skills. Got a job at TVA!
I trained with the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant team and then eventually transferred to Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant. I was a dual-rate shift captain and when the opportunity arose, I volunteered to be Captain for Group 5. The blue glow of the uranium in the fuel cells was awesome at first, but you soon realized that a power plant is hot, noisy and hard work. It was an honor to work there and very rewarding to be a part of the Unit 2 re-start before I left.
I moved back to Sanford and married my sister’s best friend, Cheryl. Now they are sisters and we are best friends. I took advantage of my degree, years of emergency service and became the Safety/Risk Manager at Act Corporation in Daytona Beach. I earned my safety certification and state license as a Health Care Risk Manager while working there. Tragically, my “miracle” son Corey was killed in an accident in March. He was seventeen. Act Corporation is a mental health agency and working there was beneficial for me during this time.
With five years of experience on the prevention side of safety and risk, I moved to Daytona Beach Community College, now Daytona State College. I worked for DSC for eight years and watched the campuses grow and the safety program bloom. I assumed the Risk Manager’s position when Tom Homan left the college, but they didn’t offer me his salary. I held to the verse in Psalm 75:6 that promotion comes from God. It would be worth the wait to see God move the hearts of those in charge at the college. As long as I was where God wanted me, the salary didn’t matter. I’m still more concerned with doing things that count for eternity.
While preparing to travel to a conference for college risk managers in San Antonio, Texas, I saw the adfor a Risk Manager/Safety Officer’s position at the Utilities Commission in New Smyrna Beach. While serving on the Board of Directors for the Safety Council, I was familiar with the employee that previously held the position and knew that there would be a lot of work to do. Still, I felt that it was in my best interest to apply.
The HR Director called when I returned from Texas and asked me to interview for the job. The day after the interview she offered me the job. Wow, what a decision. Not really. When I handed my resignation to my supervisor I told him that employees do not leave good institutions, they leave bad managers. Within months, the other two managers in my department also resigned.
I had ten years of previous experience in the utilities industry and saw a lot of unnecessary carnage in this world as an EMT/Firefighter. I believe that there is no such thing as an accident, everything is predictable and preventable. I had real peace about taking this job, but I asked God for a favor. I asked him to bless the Utilities Commission and its employees like he did for Joseph when he went to Egypt. Bless everything we do and keep us safe.
Of course, I know that I am not Joseph (not even close). But God is the same God! And God is still in the people business. He truly blessed the Utilities Commission the six years I was there. He delights in doing anything that brings glory and honor to himself and to his Son, Christ Jesus.
So, I don’t care if I’m shoveling coal or pig slop in Pennsylvania or attending a conference in a fine hotel. I want to be exactly where God wants me to be! Cheryl reminds me often, “You’re a lucky man.” Absolutely!
Philippians 4:12 reads… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
My friend Chuck Kent says, “If you see anything good in me, you’re looking at Jesus. If you see anything else, you’re looking at me.” I’m sure you’ve seen more of me than you’ve needed to see.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1 – 2
George C. Markos, Retired
Senior Consultant for Fishmore & Dolittle