My First Job

Cherie Berry, the N.C. commissioner of Labor, talks about joining the workforce

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Cherie Berry

I have fond memories of my first job, (cleaning cones), which was in the early ’60s in Maiden, N.C. I was in high school at the time and needed extra spending money for gas or so I could go shoot pool or go to the movies with my friends.My dad believed we should work and arranged for Carolina Mills to deliver cardboard cones, used to wind yarn, to a shed he built in the backyard. They wanted to recycle the cones. Working with my family, we removed the identifying stamp inside the cone, cleaned the lint off of them and sorted them by color. The cones would come 1,000 in a box, and we would get a penny for every cone, so we received $10 per box. Back then, gas was 30 cents per gallon and a hamburger was 15 cents. That $10 could buy you a lot of stuff!My mother and grandmother cleaned cones for extra spending money and Saturday night poker with friends, and it helped my brother Billy pay his way through Appalachian State. My goal was to take a trip to a store in Charlotte called Montaldo’s to buy a pair of Weejun loafers. I was proud of those shoes; I wore them out and eventually made sandals out of them. It was hot, hard work in that shed, but it was a lot of fun. We would crank up the radio and clean the cones to the rhythm of the songs. My mother and grandmother loved listening to Elvis and I enjoyed working alongside my family.Youth employment has changed significantly since I cleaned cones, but at its core, it is still very important to the economy of our state. It instills a work ethic and drive in you and helps young people realize that if they want something, they have to go work for it. It instilled in me the entrepreneurial spirit, which led me to run my own business, and I will never forget how important that was in launching my career.Cherie Berry is commissioner of the N.C. Department of Labor.