I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. And being a teacher meant I’d be going to college. And going to college meant I’d have to earn some money in order to pay for it.

By the time I was 11 I had my own savings account. At least half of all my babysitting money went straight into the bank, into what I called my “college fund.” Picking strawberries and raspberries during my junior high summers was one way I made money. We got a whopping 85¢ for every “flat” we picked. A flat was 12 quart-sized containers. I could pick a flat an hour when I worked at it, and the “berry boss” punched my ticket so I could get paid at the end of the week.

It was hard work. The “berry bus” picked us up at 6 a.m. We drove to a berry farm in the Skagit Valley, in the northern Puget Sound region of Washington State. It was a two-hour ride each way. We returned home in time for dinner.

When the berries were plentiful, I could pick seven or eight flats a day if I hustled. We worked six days a week, so that gave me 35 to 40 dollars each payday. I was grateful that I could work outside, wear whatever I wanted, and hang out with other kids and a transistor radio every day. Life was good.

My college costs were $1800 that first year, which included tuition, room and board, and books. I had just a little more that that when I headed off to Central Washington State College in September, 1972. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the rest of my education, but it didn’t matter. I took the leap of faith and embraced the dormitory life.

I found work on campus in the Audio-Visual Library, typed papers (this is before word-processing, remember!), and even babysat to put away money for the following years. A good, strong work ethic sustained me through my studies and throughout my career. And it all started in the berry fields.

Hard work never hurt me; it wouldn’t hurt our kids, either. If you have kids, help them find ways to earn their own money. They will reap the rewards for the rest of their lives.

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