In 1964, a band called the Beatles debuted on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Vietnam War was still a "training exercise." And after 14 years as a stenographer, Rosemary Koeppel was done "sitting behind a desk all day."
So she started serving tables: 45 years of coffee refills and elbowing her way through kitchen doors, wiping tables and coaxing smiles from hungry people. Working a five-day, 40-hour week at 79, last month she finally decided to slow down.
To four days a week.
"I grew up very, very shy, and [serving] kind of brought out an inner part of me," said Koeppel. "The happiest day of my life was when I got into waitressing."
Did you think of waitressing as a career at first?
No. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to college. I wanted to become a teacher. But my dad said, "Girls don't go to college." Old school. It was like $35 a semester at Buff State, but he wouldn't let me go. That's when I got into stenographic work. I never thought I would be a waitress, but here I am.
You're 79. Do your feet hurt?
No. I wear Easy Spirit shoes, and they're wonderful. When my legs start to ache, I know it's time to buy a new pair.
Do you ever wonder if some people don't know you're not paid minimum wage, that tips are your salary?
Our early-bird customers, especially on Friday nights. They'll come in and most of them just drink water, then they have their fish fries. They don't understand. Then sometimes, you just can't lose. People are very generous. You have a bad day one day, you'll have a better day the next.
You depend on people's kindness, or decency, to make a living.
What has that taught you about human character?
Well, some people are very, very cheap, or they don't care. They're just there to eat, and they don't care. I've had people stiff me on big orders, a $50 bill and get $2. If you can go out and eat and spend a lot of money, you can tip the waitress decently.
What happens when you go out to eat?
I tip 20 percent or over. My husband used to get so mad at me. My husband Edward was kind of frugal, he was German. I'd say, "You can't do that. These girls work hard and they don't even make minimum wage, you've got to tip them well."
I trained him well. We'd go out to eat, and he'd charge it, and I'd say, "Let me see how much tip you left."
Ever think of retiring?
No. You know why? Waitressing keeps me in shape, keeps my heart pumping. I always feel good. I don't know what I'd do with myself if I didn't work.
What would you like your customers to know?
Your servers work very hard. They don't just wait on tables, they have other important things to do. If they're kind to you, it'd be nice if you were kind to them. If you have a problem, tell your waitress and she'll take care of it.