Cable guy, point man, tax man
Dale Jensen grew up in modest circumstances surrounded by wealth. If that sounds paradoxical, think “Upstairs, Downstairs.” Dale’s dad, Kay Jensen, was an immigrant from Denmark who became the butler for a wealthy family in Waite Hill, an eastern suburb of Cleveland, and Kay’s family lived on the estate, though not in the main house where the maid, cook, housekeeper and chauffeur resided. Though perhaps not quite as glamorous as “Downton Abbey,” it was a good life, and Dale says, “I never wanted for anything.”
On the other hand, he wasn’t exactly motivated to do anything. “I loved to read, and things came easily to me,” he says, “but I didn’t get great grades. I didn’t study, and I just wanted to have a good time and get by.” He was pretty good size at 6’4”, but while at Willoughby High School he didn’t dream of an athletic career, as many kids do. His thoughts on a career were unsettled. “I knew I didn’t want to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he says, “and I thought I wanted to be a CPA.” Who, in high school, aspires to be a certified public accountant? Or even knows what a CPA does? He says, “I was good at math, and that would be useful in a business career.”
When he graduated from high school in 1965, Dale enrolled at Miami (Ohio) University, naturally enough taking courses in business. “It wasn’t my passion at the time,” he emphasizes. His grades reflected it, and he dropped out of school to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps reserve. He put in 6 months of training at Paris Island and Camp Lejeune and signed on for 5-and-a-half years in the Marines reserve, but his unit never got called up for duty in Vietnam, and in 1966 a friend got him an interview with Ohio Bell, a part of the giant AT&T corporation. AT&T was a regulated monopoly in telecommunications that eventually broke up in 1984. Dale got the entry-level job: cable maintenance and repair on a road crew working East Cleveland.
“I loved it,” he says. His crew would draw their assignments every morning, and each cable guy went out on his own to handle whatever problem he was assigned to. “Every case was unique,” he says. “You had to use your deductive skills and solve the case, just doing your own thing. Then you’d be climbing up a pole or going down a manhole to fix it.” But after five years as a trouble shooter, he went into marketing for Ohio Bell. Why marketing? “I didn’t want to be a foreman on the road, managing guys like me,” he recalls. And foreman was pretty much the top job for a cable guy. “Marketing jobs paid better, and there were more opportunities for advancement.”
And advance he did. In 1972 a job opening came up in Chicago with Ameritech, a sister corporation in the vast AT&T complex, and he landed it. Physicists at Bell Labs had invented the transistor, which revolutionized the field of electronics and paved the way for smaller and cheaper radios, calculators, and computers. Cell phones were just coming into use, and Dale’s job was as product manager for cellular interconnections—a pretty nice position for a young man of 29 in his first year away from being a cable guy.
Dale stayed with Ameritech for 33 years, effectively serving as a point man for the organization as it moved into the burgeoning field of telecommunications. He served as product manager for digital interconnections when the digital age arrived and people were looking for faster connections. Then he became communications director for Y2K when, in 1996, the company prepared for the massive job of stepping into a new century. The problem was that software programs in computers and networks represented 4-digit years (e.g. 1987) with their final two digits (e.g. 87), but this would make the year 2000 indistinguishable from the year 1900. Dale remembers that “people were worried that it was going to be the end of the world as we know it” when the clock struck midnight (plus one second) in the year 2000. “Planes were going to fall out of the sky, missiles were going to be fired off accidentally, and all kinds of bad things were going to happen. My job was to communicate to people what Ameritech (and by inference, the telecommunications industry) was doing to avert disaster in 2000.”
While software technicians and engineers tackled this knotty problem, Dale provided talking points for company officials to use in dealing with the public, businesses and the federal and state governments via radio, television and the press. It was a huge deal … and fortunately, nothing disastrous happened when all systems changed from 2-digit to 4-digit designations at Y2K’s witching hour.
“Right after that, Ameritech gave a lot of its senior employees a chance to retire on very favorable terms,” Dale recalls, “and I took advantage of that.” He and his partner for life, Rosemarie DeFabbo, retired to Whitewater, Wisconsin. “We had met in Chicago, when she worked for AT&T and I worked for Ameritech,” he says. “We were both divorced, and we didn’t really think about getting married at first, but we’ve been together for over 30 years and it’s not an issue now.”
After ten years of ice and snow, Dale and Rosemarie decided to move to Florida. “My parents had retired to Englewood,” he says, “and we started looking in Tampa and gradually worked our way down the coast. Finally, it was pure serendipity: We found a place in Rotonda that we really liked, and it went into foreclosure, so we bought it at a good price.” Now Dale plays some golf, putters around the house, does a little fishing and walks his “14-year-old, blind, diabetic and spoiled Jack Russell, Max” for exercise. “Basically, I’m sedentary,” he avers.
But wait, there’s more. For the past five years he’s been managing a group of volunteers who work with AARP Tax-Aide, offering free preparation and filing of income tax forms for area residents who need help. “It doesn’t matter how much income they have, as long as the filing is not complex,” he says. Housed at the Elsie Quirk Library in Englewood, Dale and the other volunteers put in three or four days a week during the October-to-April tax season. “Our people aren’t CPAs, but they have to pass an online test to get certified by the IRS. The government is encouraging people to file electronically, and they provide some of the funding for the AARP to do this. So we’re providing a service, especially for older folks who need a hand, and we save them the cost of hiring a CPA to file for them.”
What a great idea. That’s a service we could all use. And you know what? In providing this worthy service for his fellow citizens, Dale is, after all, fulfilling that notion he had in high school that a CPA’s kind of job was lurking in his future.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: email@example.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.