Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Model Employee?

Glenn’s work ethic was shaped by his years at Bethlehem Steel. His time there taught him that each man has to be able to depend on the next man, which often meant life-or-death “at the Steel” as they called it. A mutual respect grew among the co-workers because of it.

Each man knew to respect the other’s personal space. Glenn spoke of a time when a co-worker grabbed his shoulder unexpectedly. Glenn had shockingly quick reflexes and with that, he turned and sent the man tumbling with a fist to his jaw. While I knew him, there was at least one time that I accidentally bumped into him and he almost instantly turned and had me by the wrist. With a smirk on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he said, “You watch yourself! You know what I did to that man at the Steel.”

Glenn also knew to respect another man’s tools. At the Steel, a man’s tools were his livelihood and to even as much as touch them was the gravest sin. Glenn told of fistfights that broke out over the smallest infringement on this unspoken rule.

Responsibility was considered the highest virtue among the steel workers. Each man needed to be hard at work before the bell rang each morning and not stop until the day was done. Tardiness was never an option. But being a responsible worker involved more than just being there on time and doing your job. It meant doing your job right. Since being able to do your job depended on the guy next to you, anyone not doing his job right affected every other man down the line. Any worker not paying attention could very well cost the life of another man.

Long after his years at the Steel, Glenn still maintained these high work-ethic convictions. While we were co-workers, he became quite disillusioned with the small business we worked for. Glenn’s workbench was often not as he left it, his tools were lost or damaged and he saw other employees, both high and low, who didn’t seem to know how to work or value it as he did.

As a result, Glenn understandably had little respect for his bosses or co-workers. While management couldn’t help but notice, (and those with larger egos took it very personal!) they really had nothing to reproach him on.

Whether you agreed with Glenn or not, you had to respect him. He was hard at work every morning while everybody else was still getting their coffee. Any business would benefit from having more men like him around.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Large Life in a Small Town

Life stories fascinate me. While some people lead more diverse lives than others, I am convinced that everyone has an incredible story to tell… if they will just tell it. So I often sit down with friends and family (and sometimes even strangers!) just to listen. And as I listened to Glenn’s life, the only word to describe it is “epic.”

But it wasn’t necessarily his experiences that made it epic—it was his attitude.

Glenn lived his life like the old western heroes he enjoyed so much. There was purpose and excitement around every corner. So Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he grew up, became his own personal frontier for fun and adventure. He told me countless stories of his young life. And whether or not they were all true, what I gathered most were not facts about his life, but how his outlook made every experience larger-than-life.

Picture by Harald Finster. Used with permission.
Glenn knew he was going to be a “steel man” from early on. Those plans were put on hold briefly while he served in Vietnam. That was the only portion of his life he rarely told stories about. But once he returned home, it was all about working for Bethlehem Steel. Yet it wasn’t just a job. It was bigger than that. It was destiny. And while I knew him, any time Jimmy Dean’s song, “Steel Men” came on, Glenn would perk up and say, “Here’s my song!”

But Glenn did far more than just work a blast furnace. He owned a small television repair business, he had rental properties for a while, he shook things up while serving on the local school board and he and his wife raised a family of four kids together.

As Glenn galloped across the screen of his ordinary life, he chose to become his own hero. He lived larger-than-life, ennobling the simple, everyday things and found worth and adventure in doing them. I cannot help but appreciate my own life more from having known him.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I am always thankful for those people in my life who expand my horizons. Glenn Snyder would certainly fall into that category.

When I began working at Walkers, I listened to Christian rock music from the eighties and Tony Orlando and Dawn. I thought my tastes were quite broad. But Glenn, who had very unique tastes in music, movies and television, introduced me to far more.

Glenn was very passionate about his music and everyone knew it. So while we all took turns (or vied for a turn!) to choose the music, our co-workers always made a point of playing some of his every day.

I had vaguely heard of Tennessee Ernie Ford and knew Johnny Cash as “the guy who sang Ring of Fire.” But soon I was able to recognize Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Walter Brennan. I still remember the first day I heard Gordon Lightfoot. “Who is this?” I asked Glenn. “It’s great!”

I soon learned words to the classic ballads and joined Glenn in singing “Red Headed Stranger” and “Big Iron” and so much more. The more I listened, the more I appreciated his tastes in music. When Glenn realized how much I was enjoying it, he began bringing me CDs of his old music which he had collected over the years.

I still listen to those often. It is great music and they bring back good memories of times with my friend and co-worker.

Apart from music, Glenn also introduced me to more old western movies and television shows than I could possibly name. Not only did I enjoy being able to share those with him, but I know he enjoyed having someone to share them with.

I’m glad I was open to what Glenn had to offer. My life is richer for it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Every Step Counts

When I began work at the shop, I thought I knew what I was doing. Electronics assembly should be a piece of cake, right? I had used a soldering iron many times and could use a screwdriver and drill as well as anyone else. But Glenn caught onto my ignorant arrogance right off the bat.

The first project he put me on was assembling relay boxes, which we use to power up amp racks. He showed me a completed one first.

“All right, so this is what you are going to be building. Now, what I want you to do is cut ten pieces of this wire to exactly three inches in length.”

“And then what?” I responded.

“I just told you. I want you to cut ten pieces of this wire. Then I will tell you what to do next.”

I cut the wires and then asked Glenn what was next. He told me to crimp lugs onto one end of each wire. I did that and returned.

As this whole step-by-step process continued on and on, I got increasingly annoyed. I wanted him to just give me a picture or open up a completed box for me to look at, and then just let me do the job! I raced through each step just to show that I knew what I was doing and didn’t need to be treated like a baby. But Glenn still only gave me one small step at a time.

When I was finally finished, I proudly set the pile of relay boxes on Glenn’s bench.

See, a piece of cake! I thought to myself.

But the next morning, the relays were back on my bench!

“Ryan, meet me in my office,” Glenn said. That meant he wanted to see me at his workbench. So I came over and asked about the boxes.

“Well, they don’t work,” he said simply. “They aren’t complete if they don’t work.”

“What!” I responded, “What’s wrong with them?”

He walked over to my bench and opened up each of the boxes. Then he began pointing out all the problems: a crossed wire here, forgotten heat shrink over there, an un-tightened screw right here… the list went on and on.

I was shocked. I was so sure that I had done everything right. But I obviously had a lot to learn. And slowly over time, I did learn. As my pride shrank and my maturity grew, I learned a lesson from Glenn I’ll never forget.

I realized that if I wanted the completed product to be right, then every single step is important too. But just as crucial, every step is also another chance to check my work.

When I would build something, Glenn would spend a long time afterward checking it. But when he would build something, he didn’t take as long. Why? Because he already knew he had respected every single step of his work and had checked each one along the way.

That’s the first important lesson Glenn taught me. Learning to respect each step has made me a better worker, and maybe even a better person. I rarely have to fix items nowadays that I’ve assembled, and that’s due in large part to what I learned from Glenn.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The New Kid on the Block

The summer of 2005, I was very excited about life and the future. At 19, I had just completed my first year at Philadelphia Biblical University and was on my way to a bachelor’s degree in Bible. My ultimate goal was a doctorate and becoming a professor myself. I was also engaged to my best friend from childhood, Hannah Joy, and we planned to get married following my second year of school.

But for that summer, I needed a job.

My father had worked for a small organ business in Pennsylvania, Walker Technical Company, for many years before becoming a missionary. He spoke to his good friend and owner about a summer job for me and I was hired right after school ended.

Since it was only a temporary position, they put me to work in the Warehouse doing random jobs to pass the time. But in July, I suddenly realized I didn’t want to go back to school in a month! I enjoyed working and also spending lots of time with Hannah. The thought of diving into another school year, preparing for the wedding (which we had since moved up to Christmas) and living over an hour away from Hannah just sounded awful to me.

So I asked if there would be a more permanent position available. They said they could use me in the main shop, where the electronics and console assembly happened. I was excited and started work in the shop a week later.

I had spent a lot of time there as a child while my dad worked overtime on the weekends. He used to let me melt solder at a workbench or play with my cars on the ramp next to his desk. Though the shop had seen many changes over the years, I still felt somewhat comfortable there.

Inside the main entrance, where the tractor used to be, there were now offices. Next came a large open area for console production and then a long row of testing equipment. Up the ramp to where my dad and the other engineer's desks used to be, there were now production benches for electronic assembly and stuffing and testing boards. That’s where I met the four characters I would soon become very familiar with.

There was an older, somewhat confused, temp woman doing who-knows-what, a firebrand drama queen stuffing boards, a board tester/service technician with a wry sense of humor, and finally, the leader of the pack and by far the most intimidating, was Glenn.

His gruff manner, large shoulders and huge hands stood out to me from the beginning. He was not necessarily unshaven, yet far from clean shaven. He almost looked dirty, but wasn’t, and always smelled of cigarette smoke. But instead of the disgusting smell of cheap cigarettes, it was actually kind of a nice smell to me and reminiscent of a certain neighbor's house growing up.

I said to Glenn with a smile, "So, do you have something for me to do?" He slowly looked me over, and then said gruffly, "So you're the one. All right, let's get you to work."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Remembering Glenn

This is the kind of story that starts at the end. On Wednesday, June 22, 2011 my good friend, Glenn Snyder, passed away at a local nursing home. I had known Glenn for nearly six years, but it felt a lot longer. Since his passing, I have spent much time thinking about him, the life he lived, and the memories he left me. This blog is a way for me to work through those memories and put them down so they will not be forgotten.

Glenn Snyder, 1948-2011