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The Walrus

The Walrus

Vol. 2 No. 17 pages 1 and 8 April 24, 1953

Hale, Hearty And 77, Jonas Still Fires Away - And Likes His Work

by Lyman Coombs

Ernest Jonas

At 77 years of age, most men have been retired to a life of rest, reminiscense and recreation, but not Ernest Jonas, the depot's oldest employee.

A boiler fireman in the Post Engineers's Heating Unit, Jonas has been employed at this installation since 1945. He still speaks of the day Rueben Nelson, then employed in the Personnel Office, gave him the glad hand and, with Ben Geary, his foreman, hired him to keep alive the fires which warm Iglooites through this Banana Belt's mild but extended winters.

Geary speaks nothing but praise of Jonas. Among the adjectives he uses in this praise: pleasant, dependable, honest. That word dependable can well be given emphasis: He has taken only one day of sick leave in more than three years! That's a record which few men of any age can match.

Jonas was born in Pozsony, Hungary back in 1875, when old Franz Josef reigned over his home-land and Ulysses S. Grant was keeping alive the spoils system in the Unitied States. Jonas's father was a "farmer", but Ernest took to industrial life and started firing boilers before he was 21. After three years of compulsory military service and some more experience, he became chief stationary engineer of a number of factories, among them a paper processing factory, in the old country. Jonas has practiced his trade off and on ever since, and is proud of his long years of experience.

But times were poor over there, and in 1913, he boarded a boat in Bremen, Germany, for the U. S. A. His first home in the new world was Chicago. New in this country at the age of 38 and unable to speak a word of English, Jonas was a bit lost and lonely at first. (Then, and still, a bachelor, his loneliness was accentuated by each of his friends in this country.) Gradually he made friends, found his place in Chicago's industrial life, and happily adjusted himself to his adopted country.

Ill health plagued him, however, and in 1919 he headed for a strange new land called South Dakota. The Sunshine State's dry climate soon chased the doctors away, and he came to like his new state, well enough in fact, to make it his permanent home. The state's climate has kept him amazingly healthy ever since.

The first stop in South Dakota was Wessington Springs, where he alternately worked as farm-hand and co-manager of a garage. The year 1928 brought him to Rapid City, where he became the proud possesser of his final citizenship papers. After a period of farming and some rather unsuccessful gold mining around Rapid, as well as some occasional firing, he heard that firemen were wanted at Igloo and came here to work, nearly eight years ago. Neither the Depot nor the employee has ever regretted the move.

Naturally, at his age, he is often dogged with the question, "When ya gonna retire?" He certainly could if he wanted; he has no financial problems. He admits, hesitantly but with a twinkle in his eye, that he has a tidy little nest egg laid away, (asked how much he has in the bank, he's apt to ask in return, "Which bank do you mean?"), and he's the proud possesor of a newly-purchased 1952 Plymouth. But he's looking forward to many more years of life and isn't done carrying his share of the burdens of society. A squat white-haired gent with a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache and curved-stem pipe, which makes him easily recognizable and marks him with a dash of old-world color, he still speaks in a halting, broken English. "I don't like to spend much time in the pool hall" he says. "I don't like to stand out on the corner. I don't like fishing. If go on the farm, I have to get up early and work. I just as well work here. Even doctors say a little exercise is good. I get that here. What for I quit? I just keep on working how long I feel like it." So for some time yet, Jonas will continue to man his post in a hospital boiler room and keep those pretty little nurses and miscellaneous patients warm and comfortable.

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