At Home With Vivian: Always a smile

Barbara Cetko
Barbara Cetko

Every week I trek down to the Martinez News-Gazette office for extra copies of my column to mail off to my three adult children. I thoroughly enjoy a little chit chat with whoever is staffing the front desk. One lady in particular always has a smile and nothing but good words to say. Barbara Cetko is one of my favorite people of all time.

I asked Barbara one day last week how she came to be working at the Gazette and found that this is her second career. She worked for the government for 36 years before going to work for the Gazette for the next 36 (and counting) years! Can you imagine? Do the math…

Barbara is a local girl. She was born in Berkeley, grew up in Benicia and went to work at the Benicia Arsenal when she was 16. She was part of a wartime program for students to attend high school four hours a day then work at the arsenal four hours a day during the week and eight hours on Saturday. Not many folks today remember the days when the arsenal was active. Did you know that during World War II the arsenal supplied ports with weapons, artillery, parts, supplies, and tools? The arsenal is most famous for supplying munitions to Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle for the first bombing raid on Tokyo in 1942.

Because of WWII there was a labor shortage at the Benicia Arsenal. The commander put hundreds of Italian and German POWs to work as well as local teenagers. Women comprised nearly half the civilian employee work force. Barbara remembers seeing the Italian POWs out on passes shopping in town. Many of them came back to live here after the war. Barbara remembers the war years well, “We never locked our doors then.” Nylons, gas, and sugar, just to name a few items, were all rationed.

At the arsenal, Barbara worked in the payroll division. “I was good at figures. That’s probably why they hired me,” she said. She was responsible for the payroll of more than a thousand workers. Barbara balanced the figures – taxes, health care, Social Security, and hours worked. She continued the job when munitions operations were transferred to the Concord Naval Weapon Station during the arsenal closure.

Barbara rode the ferry from Benicia. A bus picked up the workers at the dock and drove them to the Naval Weapons station. “Sometimes we’d get stuck for half an hour waiting for a train to pass!”

In 1950, Barbara and her husband moved to Martinez. When she told her mother that they had signed the contract for a thirty year loan at $64 a month on a home with beautiful redwood beam ceilings, her mother declared that they would never be able to make the payments! Back then, $2,000 a year was a good salary.

Barbara’s husband passed away young, leaving her a single mother. Barbara proudly told me that she paid off the house and still lives there.

Barbara worked government payroll for 36 years. She retired from civil service in December 1981 and went to work for the Martinez Gazette in January of 1982. When she applied for the Gazette job, she was told that she was overqualified.

They feared that she wouldn’t stay there long before she went looking for a higher salary. When she told them that she was retired, didn’t need a big paycheck, and wanted something to keep her active and engaged, they hired her on the spot.

Her first editor was Robert Osmond, back when the newspaper ran five days a week. “He was a nice family man,” Barbara reminisced.

“The Martinez News-Gazette, established in 1858, is one of the oldest continuously operating newspapers in the United States, and one of the first newspapers in California,” reads this newspaper’s website.

I asked Barbara why she thinks the Martinez Gazette is still being published after all of these years when so many other publications have gone to an online presence only.

She believes it’s because David Payne (grandson of Sen. Luther E. Gibson, original owner of Gibson Printing and Publishing Company, and current owner of this newspaper) has always insisted that the Martinez Gazette is a local paper. It focuses on news that is of interest and importance to the people who live and work in Martinez. This paper covers local news that isn’t found anywhere else.

I wondered what she thought were the biggest changes to the newspaper world since she began 36 years ago. “Technology” was her immediate answer. She’s gone from the typewriter to the computer and just recently got a newer computer.

Barbara just shook her head in mock disbelief. “You have to push 50 different buttons to get to what used to only take a couple,” she exclaimed.

Barbara Cetko is the woman to go to when you need to have a legal notice published. A legal notice is a public posting or advertising to announce a legal action or intent. It’s a way to make any legal action transparent that may affect rights, obligations or duties. It’s a difficult, tedious job. You have to be perfect.

Barbara is meticulous. She doesn’t create the notices but she checks every character and punctuation mark to make sure they are exactly like the original before it goes to the printer. Then she double-checks each notice on the printed page looking for possible errors. You may have heard recently of the dairy in Maine that lost a million dollar court case due to a missing Oxford comma? That will not happen here. Barbara is so thorough that she keeps a daily handwritten log book in which she can easily reference any legal notice she’s handled. When the notice was received and when it was published is clearly denoted. She has a log book for each of her 36 years at the Gazette!

At 91 years of age, why does Barbara Cetko get up and go to work every day? “I don’t have to work for the money. I work because I enjoy it. And the doctor says working is the best medicine,” she explains.

The reason she’s gotten so far along in life is because she has stayed busy, active and alert. “You think you’ve seen it all, but you haven’t,” she said. Barbara doesn’t even need glasses to read except when her eyes get tired.

Barbara has plenty to keep her busy even when she’s not at work. She has a close-knit family. She’s one of nine children and most of her siblings, their children and grandchildren all live in the area. Her great grandchildren, Brook and Liv, are the sparkle in her eyes.

What else does she do? She’s a devout sports fan! “I can’t get enough of them!” she exclaimed, “Football, baseball, basketball and especially Rory McIlroy.” She loves to watch him golf.

I asked her what she thought were the biggest news stories to come through the office since she started in 1982. She thought for a minute then mused, “Maybe when they built the Nob Hill Shopping Center. That was in the paper quite a while.” I asked her about the beavers. She just laughed.

Barbara has no intention of starting a third career. She is doing just fine at the Gazette. If you ever need inspiration, stop by the Gazette office at 802 Alhambra Avenue and say hello. Avoid Friday and Tuesdays at about 10am. That’s when Barbara is under deadline to get the paper out. Nothing can stop the presses – just like nothing can stop Barbara!

One Reply to “At Home With Vivian: Always a smile”

  1. Thanks for writing the great article about my Auntie Barbara. She is an amazing lady! She has not had the easiest life but she always has a smile and a hug.

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