Key to photo
orothy Bolton, Judy Schlemer, Sharon Duarte, Helen Smith. Back Row: Sharon Faulkner, Jo Crain, Terri Hodge, Patsy Pope, and Deborah Brown.
The technology has changed and the company has changed, but former cord board operators still continue to hold a reunion 45 years after the closing of the cord board operating units in Dallas.
Southwestern Bell Telephone (SWBT), which is now AT&T, had operators located at 4100 Bryan Street, split among eight operating units in the building.
The women from all the units knew each other well, having worked so many years together in the same location.
With the introduction of new electronic switchboards in 1971, many of the older operators chose to retire and the rest were split into two new locations: one on Garland Road in the White Rock area and the other in Pleasant Grove.
The women from Unit 8 (yes, they were all women!) had worked together for so many years and decided to hold a reunion a year later in 1972.
It became an annual event, and the gatherings were originally held in homes. As operators from the other units were included and the number of attendees increased, larger facilities were needed.
For many years, the annual reunion was held at Winfrey Point and later at Samuel-Grand Recreation Center. The group now meets at the Circle Grill on Buckner Blvd.
“This marks our 45th annual reunion,” said 85-year-old Dorothy Bolton, the event organizer for the group. “We had no idea at the time we started this that it would continue for so many years.”
There were over 100 people in attendance in peak years, but death and old age have taken their toll over the decades. Only 10 women attended this year, and the low attendance can be attributed to health issues and some not being able to driver any longer.
“It was a time when you had your job until you retired,” reminisced 87-year-old Judy Schlemer, who retired after working 50 years as an operator. “Five years at one company is a record in today’s world.”
Memories are still vivid about the changes at SWBT through the years, but the 70’s brought the most of the change. In addition to the closing of the cord boards, they remember when operators were sent home on Christmas Day in 1970 for wearing pantsuits to work. At that time, pants could be worn, but only after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
“The first male operators were hired in the 70’s. I remember how shocked people were when they heard a male voice at the other end,” said 90-year-old Jo Crain.
At this year’s reunion, news and updates were shared. Judy Schlemer had hip surgery and was unable to drive, but she called Uber and arrived in style. Jo Crain’s home was damaged in the tornado that hit Rowlett in 2015 and she is still working to restore her home and belongings.
“We will hold the reunion as long as there is someone to make the yearly calls and ladies show up,” said Bolton.