Jane Weidrick was born in Canandaigua, New York, in 1924 as the youngest of three children. After high school, Jane was hired by Rochester Products and attended the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. She trained there to be a draftsperson and designed tools to make engine parts for the war effort.
In this oral history, Jane recalls growing up in Canandaigua with her mother, brothers, and father, the latter of whom was the chief of police in Canandaigua. Jane further speaks about her time at the General Motors Institute and her work as a draftswoman.
My dad was a wonderful gardener, and of course we did all the weeding. [laughs] He did the planting and we did all the weeding. You’d have certain times of day that you’d, after you came from school, you’d go out and weed the garden. They were very good to us. We had lots of food, though, and we supplied the neighbors with a lot of food. They’d say, “Go over and ask Johnny for a tomato or lettuce for our salad today,” or “Get some corn on the cob from Johnny.” All the neighbors came to us because we had that extra garden. And my mother’d have flowers all around the front of it so it looked nice from the street, you know. But we had corn, we had everything in that garden you could think of. The neighbors would all come over, and they’d feel free to ask dad for whatever they wanted, if they needed tomatoes that day or whatever they did. And he was real good about supplying them.
Mornings at the Police Station
I’d walk down to the police station every Sunday morning after mass and get the newspaper. [laughs] That was my job, to get the newspaper. And he’d [father] be working, and I’d go in and talk to him and see him on Sundays. And he had a wonderful, wonderful memory. I remember a lot, if I’d stop in during the week and see him, there were several lawyers in the City Hall, and if they couldn’t remember the law, they’d say, “Go down and ask Johnny Dunn what that law was,” because if he read something he’d have it for life. He had a marvelous memory. They’d come down and say, “Johnny, give me the law on disturbing the neighbors” and stuff, and he would quote the law! [laughs] But they would ask him, and I always thought that was funny—the lawyers are coming down to him. [laughs]
A Police Chief Remembered
And I do remember people coming up to me even after dad died, and saying, “Wonderful Johnny Dunn, instead of arresting our boys when they got in trouble, he’d bring them home, and he’d tell us what they did.” And he’d ask mom and dad to take care of it because he didn’t want it on their record, to keep ‘em from being a teacher or a doctor or anything. He’d bring them home, and they’d say, “Oh, here comes Johnny Dunn, wonder what the kids did now!” [laughter]. But he didn’t want it on their record. Yeah, so they said he did that all the time.
From Rochester Products to General Motors
I went to Rochester Products right after high school. We graduated and I went there like July 1st, went to Rochester Products and got hired right away in tool and gauge design. And then I had the opportunity to go to GMI, General Motors Institute, in Flint, Michigan. They sent two girls because they couldn’t get the boys to go. There was no boys going—they were all drafted. And so two girls went from Rochester Products. They went by our averages, and as long as we had the science and math, then we could go to school. And Florence, my roommate, was probably ten years older than I was. But we made it beautiful—oh, we were great friends, and we stayed friends until she died last year. We were awful homesick there, though. I had never been away from home and she had never been away from home, and we were really homesick there. And no car, you know, so that was different.
Daily Life at General Motors Institute
We went to school seven in the morning ‘til five at night, and then had supper. And they were GI suppers at the school. They were large, not very flavorful [laughs], but large, and of course we ate with all the sailors and everything there. And there were potatoes, mainly baked potatoes or fried potatoes, and a good portion of meat, which the girls never finished but the boys did. And always a vegetable and fruit, and they’d give you an orange or a banana to take home with you. And lots of bread—all the bread you wanted to eat. We had plenty to eat there. Then you’d have supper, and then you’d go home and spruce up a little bit and go back to school at night from seven ‘til ten at night. We went to a lot of school. And on Saturday mornings we’d go to school too.
CSK: So not very much time for socializing.
No, they didn’t want you with the sailors. [laughter]
CSK: Did you manage to do that anyway?
Ah, yes, we’d manage a date once and a while on a Saturday night you’d have. But otherwise you were studying all the time.