Personnel Profile: Helen Jenkins

NAME: Helen Jenkins
Elevator operator

Capitol Weekly: What do you say to people when they step into your elevator
and what do they say to you?
Helen Jenkins: They say “good morning Helen” and they call me “Madam
Butterfly” because I always wear a butterfly in my hair. They identify with
me. I cheer them on–I say “good morning” and I ask them how they are
feeling. I tell them to be happy and that things are going to cheer up.

CW: What do you do as an elevator operator?
HJ: We don’t just push buttons; we take the people where they want to go and
we watch for things that are happening. Once I saw a woman who fell down
because she was diabetic and I put a piece of chewing gum in her mouth. And
I have noticed ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor more people,
especially children, ask if the governor is here. One girl asked where he
had stood, I showed her, and she knelt down and kissed the rug.

CW: How did you break into the elevator biz?
HJ: One day I was just home watching TV and the phone rang and it was my
friend, Lenny McKenzie. She said her boss was looking for an elderly person
who would work the elevators and who could be dependable, not like the
younger ones who quit too fast. So I came and applied. I was told this would
be an on-call job. Then on May 7, 1983, I got a call and I’ve been working
every day since.

CW: What did you before you came to work in the Capitol?
HJ: I did cannery work for 20 years; and during World War II, I did men’s
jobs. I jumped in and worked for the Southern Pacific, American Can Company,
Sack factory–anything that they needed me for, I applied and got the job. At
the cannery, the majority of workers were Chinese. I asked, “What dialects
are on this belt?” One worker said Hong Kong and Cantonese and I said “show
me that.” When I spoke Chinese they answered back, “Oh my gosh, how did you
learn Chinese!” And I can speak several languages–English, Spanish, a little
bit of German, Italian, French and Japanese.

CW: Since you’ve been here for 23 years, can you share a personal highlight
with us?
HJ: I was in the same elevator as Willie Brown, but I didn’t know it was
him. He asked, “You’re new here aren’t you?” And I said, “Did I do something
wrong?” And he replied, “No, but you didn’t recognize me.” Then I said, “I
hope you’re not Jesus, because I don’t want to miss him when he’s in here.”
After that, everyone was saying that I was the first person who shut
Willie’s mouth. And then I became very famous.

CW: What do you do when you aren’t greeting people on their way up or down?
HJ: I’m a gambler. I go to Thunder Valley, the Indian casino, and I’m a big
winner there. My license plate says “Thundermama” and it was made by my
grandson. The first time I went I made $15,000 in five minutes. When I go, I
go every three months and I guarantee you I make at least $1,000. An
American Indian told me that blue jays were their good luck bird. I rub the
feathers on the machines. Now everyone I tell wants a blue jay feather.

CW: How did you get such a sunny disposition?
HJ: Like they say, I was just born crazy I guess. I’m a happy person–I’ve
always been like that. When people ask me if I have my “ups and downs,” I
say “yes with a few jerks in-between.” [Laughing] and they say, “Oh boy you
got us again.”

CW: Why do you think elevator operators are a dying breed?
HJ: Because people can say they can push their own buttons. But in 1995 they
took us out and people did so much damage without the operators that it cost
the state more money to fix what was broken than it would have to pay us.

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