Working at the zoo is never ho-hum


Award: Charles York...

March 08, 1998|By Emily Schuster | Emily Schuster,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Working at the zoo is never ho-hum; Award: Charles York, 41, co-foreman of operations, has been named employee of the year.

Charles York can hardly remember when the Baltimore Zoo wasn't a part of his life.

A Baltimore resident since the age of 3, York grew up just down the street from the zoo, and visited it on Sundays with his parents. As a teen, he got his first real job there, working in its maintenance department. Later, he met his wife through the zoo (her sister was a keeper).

Now, after 23 years, the Baltimore Zoo can't seem to imagine itself without York, its co-foreman of operations. It's named him its new employee of the year.

For the 41-year-old York, it's the latest in a series of happy surprises at the zoo. The job he was hired for all those years ago was supposed to be temporary, lasting a year at most. And despite growing up in the neighborhood, "This is the last place I ever thought I'd be working," he admits.

York is a big man, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall from his red Converse sneakers to the navy blue cap, emblazoned with the words "MAINTENANCE OPS." His wide smile masks a shy demeanor. He'd be the last to brag about any award or accomplishment, but the pride he takes in his work is evident when he talks about seeing bald eagles and snow leopards returned to enclosures he's renovated, or of somehow getting the first winter ZooLights celebration set up when the last lights arrived with just two hours to spare.

Even after 23 years, he says, the zoo is "not a bad place to have to come every morning." For one thing, it's almost never boring. One day, he may have to resecure a pole that an elephant has nudged out of place; the next, he may be repairing damage done to an exhibit by an unruly chimpanzee. Once, he was called upon to design a neck brace for a sick giraffe.

Then there are the human animals he's encountered: a bus load of senior citizens touring all the zoos in the country, celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, the cast of "Homicide: Life on the Street."

But York says the best part is the close rapport with his co-workers. At the zoo, everyone knows him, and he knows everyone. He can count on one hand the number of people who have been there longer than he has.

And those who work with him have nothing but praise for the man his partner, Ben Andrejczuk, calls "a friend of the zoo." "What's nice is that everyone doesn't think of him as just a co-worker, but as a friend," says Roger Birkel, the zoo's executive director.

"It's not like he just sits in his office saying, 'Do it this way, do it that way,' " says a co-worker, Alonzo Smith. "He's out there with us."

As employee of the year, York will receive a $1,000 bonus and an extra week's vacation. But it's entirely likely he'll spend some of that free time back at the zoo. And not just because, he says, he's "always worried" about the place, enough to stop in on weekends just to check on things.

For York, the Baltimore Zoo has become more than just a workplace. Like their father, his three teen-aged children grew up as loyal zoo visitors, and the two eldest work there in the summers.

"It's a nice, pleasant place," York says of the zoo. "I feel right at home here." Appearing onstage in her festive sales rally room, Angie Michaud is jumping up and down with great enthusiasm. Actually, she's jumping up and down on a Rock 'N Serve, a small but doughty piece of Tupperware technology which, she attests, has survived hundreds of similar assaults.

"I went to a meeting where they offered $1,000 to anyone who could break this with a sledgehammer," she reports in her cheerfully heavy Brooklyn accent. "You shoulda seen the look on those guys' faces when they couldn't break it. It's made of Lexan, the same thing fighter pilots use for their windshields."

Listen to Michaud, and you will soon learn the F-16 approach to dinner. She is peerless at demonstrating how to move meals speedily -- yet sleekly -- from freezer to microwave to table.

She has to be. As owner of the Baltimore distributorship for Tupperware, Michaud is the commanding presence behind all the company's home parties, fund-raisers, classes and demonstrations in the Greater Baltimore area. She's responsible for inspiring 33 managers and 260 consultants to greater financial success at her Arbutus headquarters.

And she's more than up to the assignment. A sturdy woman with hair just a tad less vivid than Rock 'N Serve red, the 57-year-old Michaud is a Tupperware legend.

No one in the container company's 52-year history has ever topped her 1985 sales feat: Angie's team (then the Fresh N Fancies of Concord, N.H.) sold $138,600 worth of merchandise in one month. And this back in the dark ages, before customers could charge their Thatsa Bowls and Fridge Stackables!

The achievement earned Michaud not only the title of the nation's top manager, but also the opportunity to buy a distributorship in Baltimore.

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