Working in a Man’s World

 

Joanne Letson and Roberta Walker

Joanne Letson and Roberta Walker

By JOSEPH SAPIA

Joanne Letson and Roberta Walker give Bradley Beach a lot of exposure around town. They are seasonal public works department workers planting flowers, maintaining fountains, sprucing up garden beds on Main Street and at the beachfront.

“Incredible work to detail,” said Mayor Gary Engelstad. “They’re extremely friendly. They have a great attitude, they’re always smiling.

“They just represent the town in incredible fashion,” Engelstad said.

Oh, but those public works muscle-type shirts gave Letson and Walker more bosomy exposure than they or their ages wanted.

“The arm hole was really big,” said Walker, 63.

“If you’re 20 and fit, they’re OK,” joked Letson, 55.

Hey, they are women in what has traditionally been a man’s world — laboring in public works.

Their boss, Rich Bianchi Jr., praised the two as “very hard workers.”

“I’d hire more (females), but there’s not too many out there (working in public works),” Bianchi said.

Letson and Walker knew of no others doing traditional public works jobs, such as plowing snow and driving heavy equipment. Bianchi could only think of one, a woman with many years of service in a nearby town.

Here in Bradley Beach, Letson, in her second season, and Walker, in her first, do lighter-end public works jobs: gardening and landscaping, maintenance of the borough’s three fountains at the beachfront and Riley Park, trimming trees, painting, and picking up roadkill.

But Letson, though, recently obtained a commercial driver’s license, allowing her to drive bigger vehicles. She is a driver for the Bradley Beach Fire Department, where she has been a member for four years. She hopes the CDL leads to more opportunity.

Letson, who was a medical technologist, said she “knew the past seasonal gardener and I heard he was leaving.”

“I applied for the job,” said Letson, a borough resident who is married and has two teenage children.

Walker saw Letson at work last year and was wowed.

“Oh, my God, a woman,” said Letson, who does painted glassware artwork and has experience in nursery and garden center work. “I was surprised to see a woman on DPW.

“My whole family worked for DPW in Spring Lake, there’s no female there,” Walker said. “There’s no females anywhere that I’ve ever seen.”

Walker, who lives in Spring Lake and has two adult children, applied and she got the job.

“We’re happy, we like it,” Letson said.

Working outside is both a benefit and, in hot or inclement weather, a hindrance. The job includes answering questions from the public — giving directions, explaining what activities are going on.

A man, saying he was from the Middle East and knows a suspicious object when he sees one, alerted them to a black box near the railroad tracks. Actually, it was a rat trap.

Another time, co-workers were placing signs along the boardwalk that listed restrictions about such things as bicycling and skateboarding. Letson and Walker thought it was funny the sign mentioned a reptile ban.

“The next day, we saw somebody with a snake wrapped around (his) arm riding a skateboard,” Letson said.

The job, though — “It’s a great job,” Letson said. “And I encourage other women to make their mark.”

As for the muscle shirts, Letson did not wear them, instead simply wearing her own shirts that provided more coverage. Walker wore the muscle shirt, but over a more modest shirt.

“But, now, it’s getting too hot for that,” Walker said.

So, the women found some neon yellow-green, regular-cut T-shirts the borough has. Not only are they more modest, but the color allows them to forego a safety vest.

“I can get them whatever (shirt) they want,” Bianchi said.

The reason he picked out the muscle-type shirts is that male public works workers– Remember, this is traditionally a man’s world — would alter them to make them cooler for hot weather.

“First thing, I give the guys shirts,” Bianchi said, “they cut the sleeves off.”

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