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Sweeping floors, hauling hay: area professionals reflect on their first paid gigs

By Bryan Richardson

First jobs tend to have a bad reputation. People are young and inexperienced, and the pay is almost always low. The jobs themselves tend to involve relatively menial tasks: paper routes, busing tables at restaurants or doing basic janitorial tasks. There’s a reasonable prospect that the workers will be doing something they don’t really enjoy.

But however menial, some successful Manhattan residents utilized the lessons they learned on their first job to help build their future careers.

Lyle Butler

Today, Butler is the president and CEO of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce. While attending school, he had to start his work career on the ground floor.

The floor was located at an offset printing company in Springfield, Mass., where he worked as the floor boy during summers and holidays at home. “A floor boy was simply one that swept the floors, emptied the trash and moved materials around,” he said.

Butler became more involved in the company during his four years, eventually declining a full-time sales position after he graduated.

“Gradually, I learned more and more about the business,” he said. “After my first year, my manager was impressed with me and began to teach me about the machinery.”

Along the way, Butler picked up some tips that are important in his life. “I have those experiences that I carried with me in my future work even today as president of the chamber,” he said.

Patience was high among those lessons. Butler was eager to impress, but didn’t always go about it the right way. “My thinking was if I could run the machine quicker and faster, that would impress them,” he said.

At the same time, the opportunity to work alongside more experienced people taught him the values of teamwork and being a good listener.

“You need to learn from people who have been there,” he said. “As a young kid, I thought I knew everything.”

If Butler had a conversation with his former self, the younger of the two might be surprised about the life lessons he’s about to learn. “I didn’t realize it back then,” he said. “It was very important and those are skills I’ve tried to hone in on.”



Suelyn Hall

Hall’s experience is rare: her first paying job is her current one as a urologist in private practice here. She said her parents didn’t think their children should work while in school, so Hall followed suit.

“Most people have had other jobs working at McDonald’s or a bookstore,” she said. “But this is my first job. It’s funny when I tell people that.”

But Hall did have a first non-paying experience that provided lessons for her. She participated in a research program at Florida International University while attending Southridge High in Miami.

Hall studied mammalian cells in the program during her junior and senior years of high school. She said she learned virtues such as dedication, commitment, work ethic and purpose while working for two to three hours for three days a week.

Hall discovered her interest in science early and was able to cultivate it through the research. “It kept me focused in that direction where I was intrigued initially,” she said. “I enjoyed it and felt fulfilled from the results of the actions done.”

Her two years of hard work paid off with her project placing third in the state science fair and earning her a finalist position at the 33rd International Science Fair in Houston.

Hall said the positive experience allowed her to continue in the medical field. “Its influence probably was one thing that catapulted me to enter a profession that’s typically male-dominated and having the confidence to do what I wanted to do,” she said.



Pat Keating

Keating is the founder, president and CEO of Keating and Associates, a financial planning and insurance services company.

The company, founded in 1975 in Manhattan, has grown to four Kansas offices, a Chicago office and an Oklahoma City office.

Keating’s entrepreneurial spirit started as a 16-year-old in Lillis, about 45 miles northeast of Manhattan.

Keating said he stuck to what he knew in order to make his own money. Growing up on a small farm, he knew about hauling hay. He hired a friend and they began to work for neighbors.

“It was the only thing I could do,” he said. “It was a service somebody needed and I was willing to put in the long hours to do it.”

Keating would give potential entrepreneurs the same advice he followed in his hay business. “The first thing you have to know is you can’t do it by yourself,” he said. “You have to get great people around you.”

Keating said keeping your word is another important aspect of business. “When you took on a responsibility, you had to do it and there were

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