Rosemarie Thomas is the soft-spoken, humble office supervisor at the U.S. Forest Service's Anaconda Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Anaconda, Mont., where for 45 years she has watched thousands of young people get what some believe is the last chance for a high school diploma and the start of a life-long career. Many of the young people she sees in the program are from Anaconda or the surrounding area, where she was born and raised and where she chose to bring up her own family. In October, the administration building at the Anaconda Center will be named in her honor.
What should people know about the Job Corps Conservation Center in Anaconda?
I like to describe us as a vo-tech school. Our capacity is 236 kids, and they all live at the center. They stay for up to one or two years, but if they have not quite finished their education, they can get an extension. The students that come here can obtain their GED [General Education Development] or a high school diploma and learn a trade. When they complete the program, we help them find a job. The majority of the trades we have are union trades: brick laying, heavy equipment mechanic, heavy equipment operators, carpentry, welding and painting. We also offer business technologies and culinary arts. Job Corps is a great program, and I must say that it’s one of the government programs that is successful because it gives you a second chance to get your high school diploma and a trade and then go back into society and be a taxpayer. That way, they pay the government back for their education and training they receive. It’s a great win-win.
Ironically, the center became a second, even third chance for you when you were younger.
I started on March 13, 1966. I went to the Job Services, applied for what they called for at that time a clerk typist position, and I was lucky enough to get one of the jobs. I had finished business school and I could work with typewriters and use shorthand. I’m sure nowadays people say “What?” I went to business school in Butte, Mont., which was 25 miles away but was a long way at the time. When I started they said the job was for 90 days. At that time, all clerical positions had to take the civil service exam. So you can see I’m kind of ancient. I started out with an Olympic manual typewriter, ditto machine and Thermofax machine. I worked my 90 days, I was layed off for a few months and then I was rehired on a year appointment. At the end of the year was laid off again. That went on for two or three years. Finally, my administrative officers said, “I have good news! You are now a full-time employee.” The rest is history. Of course, I still have a typewriter on my desk and people laugh at me. It’s not a manual; it’s an electric. It was difficult for me to go from a typewriter to a computer. It still is.
Some people would be frustrated and not want to return a second or third time.
I guess you could say I saw that it was a program that helped people. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s a good life. My husband has had several jobs. He had worked for the Anaconda Co., and it shut down in ‘79 or ‘80. He was lucky and was hired by the Montana National Guard. He retired from the military and is now working for the Job Corps as a resident advisor.
Does that mean that you and your husband are house parents?
He is more so than me. Some of the kids that come in you think, “Oh, my goodness.” You see this little 16-year-old come in, and you want to say, “Oh, you should be home with your momma.” But they will make it through the trade, graduate, and find a great job. All they need to do is take advantage of the program. It’s like a scholarship. They realize for themselves that “I’m not going anywhere, and I need to do something with my life.” If they stick with that, they will complete the program. We have a lot of good instructors who help them.
My influence on my life, well, I owe that to my mom and dad, who were very hard workers and who taught me a work ethic, which you don’t see all the time.
What your parents gave to you, your work ethic, is something you can give the students at the center.
That’s true. In many cases these students have lived a hard life for their short years. We take them in and we give them self-worth. We educate them, train them and get them on the right track. We’ve given them something that they can go out in the world to use and give something back, which in this day and age is important.
This program is accepted very well in the local communities. They do jobs for nonprofit organizations throughout the state. They helped build roads. They do beautiful masonry work in town, such as some arches and stone signs. Just different types of jobs where different types of trades can be used. Like a welding job on our stadium that saves the community money.
Your passion for the center’s mission is admirable. You will retire Dec. 31, but first you will be honored for your dedication.
They decided to name the office after me. It’s overwhelming to think they would do that. It’s a program I believe in, and it’s why I’ve been here all these years. The honor is something that I didn’t think could happen to me. It’s just overwhelming; a humbling experience. I was very surprised. I thought, well, this is a job I’m getting paid to do. I’ve been lucky to have a great job like this. That’s basically all I can say. I’m lucky to have a good job, especially during these difficult times.
What is your advice for those who come after you?
Remember you are here for the students because without them, this job would not be here. Be helpful with your co-workers and enjoy your job. Were it not for these students, I would not be here. I’m sure I probably would have retired a long time ago if I worked somewhere else.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.