Charlotte Longfellow is a crafty lady. When not working at her job as staff clerk in the department of agricultural engineering, Longfellow’s leisure pursuits include doll making, painting and weaving baskets from pine needles. Longfellow began her career with the university more than 18 years ago in Operation and Maintenance; she moved to the department of agricultural engineering science about two years later.
Tell me about your job.
It’s really a small department, so all of this time I have been the only clerk. I do purchase orders on the computer. I do student payroll. I take care of all the department inventory every two years. If you ask somebody what I do, that’s what they would tell you, but that’s not what I would tell you.
I would say that a lot of the things that I do are invisible. I take care of all the little things that only seem important to the person who needs it. It’s all the little things that make the office tie together and keep people happy.
Things like, 'We’re out of paper.' 'I left my office for a few minutes and got locked out.' 'I need a car from carpool in five minutes.' 'The light is out over my desk.' 'Where’s my paycheck?' 'The roof’s leaking.' 'The toilets are overflowing.' 'The soda machine took my money!' I’m kind of the answer person here.
Functioning at this highly visible desk is easy for me because I was a homemaker for 20 years and then I worked for JC Penney for 10 years in the catalog and credit departments, where I became supervisor. That was a job where you never completed anything without a thousand interruptions.
I guess my even temperament has probably helped me more than anything as has my common-sense approach to things. My family probably wouldn’t agree with me when I say I have an even temperament though.
What do you like best about what you do?
The people contact. I’m very much a people person. I enjoy working with students. They’re always doing projects and need to buy something and don’t know how to do that. Or they all want to go to a competition in California and nobody has a credit card to pay for the rooms. Of course, they don’t decide that’s a problem until two days before they leave. Because we’re a small department, they call me by my first name. It’s a friendly place to work. I also really enjoy problem-solving, and I have to do a lot of that.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
When we first went to computerized paperwork, it was challenging for me to learn those programs. Another challenge is that over time the nature of the office changes. One person leaves and the job descriptions change. I worked with the same woman for a long, long time, and we were really a good team. Now we’re learning to be a team again.
Tell me about the pine-needle baskets you make.
I learned to make the pine-needle baskets from my mother. You never see them in shops around here but [they are] in shops in the West and the South. They have to be done by hand: They’re small, intricate, and take a long time to make because the pine needles can be very dry and delicate. But they’re really quite beautiful when they’re finished.
Crafts have always been really relaxing to me. I really enjoy painting, and I’ve only done that for the past 10 years. The first year that I got up the nerve to enter three paintings into the Town and Country Art Show, I won a first-place and a third-place ribbon. I was thrilled. That was several years ago, and since then I’ve entered every year. Sometimes I get ribbons, and sometimes I don’t. Last year I decided to enter one of my baskets, and I got a first-place on my basket.
How did you get started painting?
I began by making notecards, and I had all the acrylic paints left over. My mother started painting when she was about 80 years old. I thought, Well, if my mother can start at 80, I can start at 50. So I just read everything I could about art and taught myself.
Recently a lady bought one of my paintings from me. She had three paintings that her mother had started, but the mother had died before she could finish them. So [the daughter] asked me to finish them. That was a challenge for me: to pick up on somebody else’s work.