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Story Last modified at 9:42 p.m. on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Complaining is fashionable, complimenting is rewarding
Mountain Echos

by Frank E. Baker

I was planning on writing a whining, griping, Andy Rooney-type piece about the generally poor quality of products, absence of pride in workmanship and customer service that seem all too prevalent these days. But even if the Star were expanded to 80 pages and they turned me loose, it wouldn't be enough space.

Instead, I decided to take an easier tack, a 180-degree turn, so to speak, and direct my thoughts toward the positive: a discussion of kudos and congratulations for jobs well done.

Over the years I've sent compliments to several individuals and organizations. Some of these notes of appreciation have gone public, as in letters published in newspapers. A couple of years ago I sent the Anchorage Daily News a letter thanking their photographer, Bob Hallinen, for his artful, provocative photos. Some time after that I saw him at a local event and he thanked me for the letter.

Another person I thanked publicly was Debbie Fancher, formerly a science teacher at East High School. In my letter to the editor I noted how passionate she was for her job and how much effort she put into science demonstrations in her classroom. If you've ever helped a student on a science project, for example, you know how difficult it is to physically demonstrate a scientific principle or hypothesis. In addition to thanking Debbie for her hard work, I took the opportunity to thank all of our school teachers, who perform one of the most important tasks in our society, if not the most important.

My most interesting thank-you was directed at the late Bob Atwood, founder and publisher of the Anchorage Times. After only one year of college, I brazenly called Atwood on the telephone and asked for a job as a reporter. After a long silence, he replied with two questions: "Have you ever heard of an application? Do you have a degree in journalism?"

I meekly answered "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second. In a forceful tone, Atwood responded curtly: "Go back to school, get your degree in journalism, come back and fill out an application, and then maybe we'll talk."

I called Atwood several years later after I had received my degree. I told him that I wasn't looking for a job, but that I appreciated his admonishment those years ago. His figurative "boot in the rear" was one of the reasons I returned to college.

Last summer while my house was being built, I brought doughnuts to the carpenters who were doing the framing. It was my way of thanking them for their efforts.

On another occasion I wrote a letter to Mrs. Renfro's Hot Sauce Company in Texas.

I suspected that the firm was owned by Exxon or some other multinational corporation and that I'd never receive a reply. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when a hand-written letter from Mrs. Renfro came in the mail, along with her photo inside the Renfro kitchen. She was wearing a red and white checkered apron and looked a little like Mrs. Santa Claus – a perfect grandmother.

I once had an inexpensive Timex wrist watch that kept going for about 20 years, and kept perfect time. I wrote to Timex to tell them what a wondrous thing they had created. I didn't hear back from them. At the time I concluded they put their resources into the product rather than communicating with customers, or maybe they figured they didn't need to make contact with a happy customer.

All of these contacts over the years made me think that in whatever profession we find ourselves, from grocery clerk to carpenter to fire fighter to doctor, we should take pride in what we do and actually sign our work or indicate that we performed the work in some manner — perhaps a small sticker: "Sparkling clean windows by Zandel." I just picked that name out of the air.

I've long-since lost a poem written on this subject, but I can recall a few pertinent questions it contained: Would a person who packs parachutes jump with one they'd packed? Would a person who is involved in manufacturing climbing rope use the same rope to dangle off a cliff? Would the people who assign temperature ratings to sleeping bags actually go out and spend a night in one of their bags in those conditions? Would food inspectors with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration give the food they inspected to their family?

Those who can answer yes to such questions have a right to sign their full name on the product of their work, and I think they should.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer whose books of poetry are available locally at the Book Shelf.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 23, 2011.