A&F NewsletterSpring 2004
'33 Alumnus Retired Early
to Enjoy Life
Beryle Elliott wanted to be a teacher. And although the 1933 Arkansas City Junior College alumnus didn’t enter the classroom in the traditional teaching sense, she still spent her working life as a teacher. It was as a personnel officer rather than a K-12 teacher.
Elliott, 90, retired in 1976 after a 25-year career with the Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka. When she retired, she was in charge of hiring at the hospital. She has spent much of the past 27 years traveling to places such as Hawaii, numerous European countries, Indonesia, and the Holy Land. She’s been to all 50 states. “I retired young (at age 62), and I’m living off my annuity now and having a wonderful time,” Elliott said. “I had a friend who liked to travel, too. We went to some foreign country every year. You name it, and I bet I’ve been there. I’ve had a good time, but I’m kind of slowing down now.”
Elliott was born in Iola and moved to Arkansas City with her parents when she was just nine months old. She is a 1931 graduate of Arkansas City High School and went right to ACJC. “It was always in the picture that I was going to go to some college,” she said. “They were hard times right then. So, I went to Basement U. Boy, it was really nothing, but I went two years and graduated.” She earned her teaching certificate and searched everywhere she knew for a job. But there were no openings. “So, I came back a third year at Basement U, and I still didn’t get too good of a job,” she said. “I worked for a woman attorney, I believe, in 1934.”
During the 1930s, Elliott worked at various places in Ark City. By that time, she was convinced that teaching would not be in her future. “There wasn’t much for women to do back then,” she said. “You were either a teacher or a nurse. I took one look at blood and passed out, so I knew that wasn’t my calling. Seventy years ago, women didn’t have the opportunities they have now. Teaching was my emphasis, but I couldn’t find a job. Back in those days, you got out in the country and had a little one-room school.” After three years at ACJC, Elliott decided to enroll at Ark City Business College, where she stayed for two years. “After that, I found several jobs,” she said. Little did she know, but she was laying the foundation for her future.
In 1941, Elliott took the civil service test, “to see if I could pass it.” The next thing she knew, she had orders to report to Washington, D.C., for work. “It was to the Navy department on such a date and hour and to be prepared to work,” Elliott said. “I’d never been out of Ark City, hardly to Wichita.” The family’s dentist had a daughter living in D.C., so Elliott made arrangements to live with her in the beautiful former Hungarian Embassy.
So Elliott hopped a train for Washington. As if experiencing a large city for the first time weren’t enough, it turned out Elliott didn’t have a room after all. “I walked in and talked to the manager, and he said my room wouldn’t be ready for three weeks,” Elliott said. “The lady who was going to move out decided to stay three more weeks.” But as luck would have it, a young woman overheard Elliott’s conversation with the manager. She told them that her roommate was on vacation and may be gone three to four weeks. Elliott had a place to stay in the same building. “She took me under her wing,” Elliott said. “War had been declared by then, and she took me to USO dances. We had a great time.” Elliott’s job paid her $1,440 a year. “I thought I would be a millionaire,” she said. She said she had worked in Ark City for about $25 per month.
Not long after arriving in Washington, Elliott got a call from her mother, Martha, saying that her father, Charles, was very ill. “When I got to Ark City, I asked the doctor how long my dad had to live, and he said three to five weeks,” Elliott said. “I decided to go back to work. I knew I had to have a job since my dad wasn’t going to make it.” No sooner had she gotten back to Washington when she received the painful call from her mother. Her dad had died. That left Martha all alone as Beryle was an only child. To make matters worse, Beryle’s aunt and uncle, John and Jennie Floyd, left Ark City when he was called back into military service. “I was in Washington a year-and-a-half, and I couldn’t stand it any more,” Beryle said. “A lot of things were happening to my mother. She fell and broke her arm and had to be hospitalized in Winfield.” Beryle took a leave of absence to be with her mother.
About that time, the U.S. Air Force was getting Strother Field established, and Beryle found a job there. She was a classification analyst in personnel. She worked at Strother until the Air Force pulled out at the end of World War II. In limbo yet again, Beryle’s personnel officer at Strother got her a transfer to Forbes Field in Topeka. But when Beryle arrived in Topeka, she was told not to unpack her bags, that she was being shipped out to Merced, Calif. “I told them I couldn’t go,” Beryle said. “I gave them my sob story about mother being alone.” But the officer wasn’t buying it, and told Beryle that she wouldn’t have a job unless she accompanied the unit to California. “I called back to Strother Field and the man said that they would put me on their orders,” Beryle said. “I still didn’t have a job, but at least I wasn’t going to California.”
In Topeka, Beryle literally ran into an Ark City girl she used to attend school with. Ruby said the only government place she knew of in Topeka was the hospital. “She took me out there the next morning, and I waited until 4 o’clock to see the personnel officer,” Beryle said. “They had just hired a classification analyst. I asked to see the gal’s application. The poor gal didn’t even have a high school education, and I had a degree, so he gave me the job.” Beryle was hired as personnel officer at Winter General Hospital in Topeka. It was September 1945.
Three months later, the Veteran’s Administration took over the hospital. “There wasn’t a lot of activity for me,” Beryle said. “I was writing job descriptions and upgrading people’s jobs. There wasn’t much activity during those months.” Soon, that changed. Military personnel arrived from Washington, and Beryle acted as a liaison between Winter General and the VA. “When the VA took over in December, I got a good job in personnel,” she said. “I was called the placement officer. At that time, we had more than 2,000 employees in the new VA hospital. It was my job to keep all of those jobs filled. Doctors, dentists, nurses, cooks, everybody.”
Probably the most famous patient at the hospital while Beryle worked there was Bob Dole. “He was injured very badly in the war and sent to the VA hospital,” Beryle said. “We would go out and see some of the patients occasionally, and I visited with him. He was a patient there a long time.” Beryle said she still makes a point to see Dole when he comes to Topeka.
Beryle never earned a bachelor’s degree, although she tried. She attended Washburn for two years while she was working, then left school. She was pursuing a degree in business. “I would have had to have gone practically the whole four years,” she said. “And I knew by then that teaching wasn’t my cup of tea. After I started working and had a good job, I had no desire to go back.”
Beryle said she always was a timid person. Joining Epsilon Sigma Alpha, a non-academic sorority, helped her with her shyness, she said. “Being in this sorority helped me overcome that,” she said. Beryle joined the sorority around 1950 and became an international director. She still belongs to the group in Topeka. She also plays bridge and is active in several other organizations. “I feel like I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to have good jobs, and good friends. My life’s nothing special.” Beryle said she remembers very little about her days at ACJC, other than the fact that Dr. Paul Johnson was president.
Beryle never married, although she was engaged for six or seven years. “My mother didn’t have enough money to live as she was accustomed to, and I just couldn’t stand it,” Beryle said. “I dated a fella and was engaged, but I knew it would never work out for my mom to live with us. We didn’t have enough money to give her.” Beryle said she was particularly close to her mother, who died in 1966. “I didn’t have the opportunity to be as close to my dad,” she said. “My mom was a great lady.” Beryle said she used to come back to Ark City around Memorial Day to visit her parents’ graves, but a case of neuropathy (a disease of the nervous system) in her feet and poor vision have put a stop to that. She no longer drives. “Everything’s changed,” Beryle said. “I’ve got a couple of friends still in Ark City, but that’s about it.” Beryle said years ago she thought about her life had she stayed in Washington, gone to California, or if she had become a teacher. “I have wondered about that, but I’ve never regretted that I didn’t go,” Beryle said. “I had good opportunities every place I’ve been.”