April 10, 2013

Typist bounces with the Kaisers to New York, Northwest and back

Anne Ferreira went to work for Henry J. Kaiser in Oakland in 1939. Photo courtesy of Jill Suico.

Anne Ferreira, a 27-year-old native of Oakland, Calif., and a rapid typist, took a secretarial job in 1939 at the Henry J. Kaiser Co., an enterprise that was just beginning to take off.

Little did she imagine that 52 years later she would be looking back on a career with the Kaiser Companies that took her to New York City in 1941, to wartime shipyards in St, Johns, Ore. (near Portland), where she met President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, and back to Oakland in 1945 where she became the administrative go-to person at the iconic 28-story Kaiser Center, built in 1959.

Anne married Raymond Ferreira, another Oakland native, in 1938. Ray worked for Pan American Airways as a paymaster, and in 1941 he was transferred to New York City. Anne left her job to go east with Ray and landed a job in the Kaiser Companies’ New York office.

Before the couple could get settled, world events intervened and Henry Kaiser’s son Edgar asked for Ray’s help in urgently mustering a wartime workforce to fulfill Kaiser’s contracts to build hundreds of ships on the West Coast.

On Sept. 23, 1942, Ray Ferreira took on the shepherding of 510 newly hired shipyard workers from Hoboken, N.J., to Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, Wash. Ferreira was in charge of the first “Kaiser Special” or “Kaiser Karavan” that fed the east-to-west migration that would irrevocably alter the nation’s demographics.

On that exact date, Ray’s wife Anne, already working in the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation office, was taken by surprise when she heard workers shouting that President Roosevelt had arrived. She ran out of the office to join the crowd gathering to see FDR ride by in a white convertible with Secret Service men in suits, hats and trench coats running alongside.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry and Edgar Kaiser and Oregon Governor Charles Sprague take a ride through the Kaiser shipyard in 1942.

The beloved wartime president was six days into his unpublicized national tour of wartime production sites when he cruised into the shipyard for the launching of the SS Joseph Teal, a Liberty Ship built in a then-astonishing 10 days. His daughter, Anna, wife of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publisher John Boettiger, was there to christen the Teal.

Shipyard construction crews had adequately prepared for the president’s visit with a special platform with an automobile ramp erected opposite the launching site. Crippled by polio, Roosevelt could view the festivities from his seat in the limousine. He watched as his daughter crashed a champagne bottle on the bow of the Joseph Teal.

Much to Anne’s amazement, while she was standing among the spectators, Henry Kaiser spotted her and shouted to her to come down to the President’s car. He signaled the guards to let her through the security barriers and alongside FDR’s entourage.

Kaiser, son Edgar, and Oregon Governor Charles Sprague were seated in the President’s limousine talking away and greeting notables along the way. When Anne, “Annie” as Kaiser knew her, reached the convertible, the industrialist introduced her to President Roosevelt who chatted with her a bit, mostly about how she liked working for Henry Kaiser.

Ray and Anne Ferreira, both natives of Oakland, Calif., worked for the Kaisers at the Vancouver Shipyard during World War II. Photo courtesy of Jill Suico.

Recently, after Anne’s death at age 98 in December 2012, her daughter, Jill Suico, summarized her mother’s lifelong affection for the Kaisers, especially Henry: “She loved the man; she loved the company; and she loved her job.”

Over the decades, Anne had many bosses within the Kaiser Companies, including Kaiser Aluminum President Cornell Maier and Dick Spees, public affairs officer for Kaiser Aluminum for 31 years, who was elected to the Oakland City Council in 1979. Anne played the role of Snoopy at the Kaiser Aluminum’s “Salute the A’s Night” in 1980 at the Oakland Coliseum and posed with Maier for an Oakland Tribune photograph.

She was an active critic of Oakland city government, and through the years chided officials for unsafe streets, untidy neighborhoods and at one point urged the addition of a spruce tree to the Oakland city logo, next to the symbol of a mighty oak tree. She pushed that campaign — to no avail — with the donation of 50 spruce trees to the city, trees that had been part of the Kaiser Center landscape.

When Anne retired in 1983, Vice Mayor Dick Spees and the Oakland City Council declared June 15 Anne Ferreira day of appreciation and presented a tongue-in-cheek certificate that read in part: “Anne . . . is duly recognized for her sage advice and persistent admonitions to (the city) to clean its streets, put its youth to work . . . and generally get its act together.”

After her official retirement, Anne returned to Kaiser Aluminum as a contractor filling in for vacationing staffers and coordinating a community service program. She finally retired at age 77 in 1991. In 2009, Anne was honored as the oldest Kaiser Aluminum retiree at age 95.

Next time: More about Anne and Ray Ferreira’s wartime experiences.