'Number please?' Operator has been on job for 50 years

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When Ruth Wotring, also known as "Operator 13," started working on the switchboard at Patrick AFB in 1957 gas was 31 cents per gallon, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, the Soviets launched "Sputnik" and there were only 48 states in the union. She celebrated 50 years of service July 1.

When Ms. Wotring, now a contractor for the 45th Space Communications Squadron, began working at the switchboard, she initially operated the "Songbird Carlson," a 16-position corded switchboard system, which required her to manually look up all telephone numbers and had multiple jacks to plug the cords into the proper extension.

Over the next six years, Ms. Wotring worked rotating eight-hour shifts and was subsequently promoted to board supervisor. She held that position for several more years before being promoted to office assistant to the chief operator in 1967. She served in this capacity for 17 years, supervising 22 operators and a directory clerk.

In July 1984, Ms. Wotring retired as chief operator. However, she had such a passion for her work that she decided to continue on a part-time basis... for another 23 years.

She has seen technology go from a system of jacks and cords to a totally computerized switchboard console. She's worked with and trained dozens of operators and watched Patrick and Cape Canaveral AFS grow to what they are today - from the first American satellite attempt in 1957 to the stand-up of the 45th Space Wing in 1991.

After retiring from civil service in 1984, Ms. Wotring has worked for four separate contractors at Patrick and currently works for the Brevard Achievement Center.

Ms. Wotring's supervisor, Darlene Anthony, marvels at her "commitment and dedication to her work, her delightful personality and her willingness and desire to take on new challenges throughout the years."

Looking back, Ms. Wotring said, "It's been a terrific job, I just love it and I would like to be able to work as long as I am physically able."

Information for this article was provided by Darlene Anthony, 45th Space Communications Squadron.