For the last 42 years, Hester Davis has been an Interviewer at the Department of Labor Employment Services office in Newark helping New Jersey residents secure jobs and training. “I work for the One Stop Career Center,” Hester says, “People call in for training or schooling, or if they need a temporary disability or unemployment assistance. Anything they need assistance with I connect them with the resources to help them.”
Having worked for the State for so many years, she was able to see the transformation of the workplace from her early days when there was no union, and after it was unionized. She believes the change has been positive. “I like it better now because we have our rights. Everything has changed for the better.” Pointing to the CWA Local 1037 Calendar hanging in her cubicle, Hester remarks, “I’m sticking with my union. When we have a problem, we come together, we talk to our Shop Steward.” She has always been an engaged union member and creates community with her coworkers.
At 90 years of age, she has had the option to retire with a good pension and health benefits, but she has no plans to. “People ask me all the time, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ I tell them, ‘You retire first and let me know how it goes, and then maybe I’ll retire,’” she laughs. “I can retire, but I love working— it keeps the blood flowing. I enjoy what I do helping other people, helping them get jobs.”
One of seven children, Hester was born on Hillside Place in Newark to a strict mother who also worked well into her nineties. “You work or you go to school – my mother told me. The only way to make it is to get an education. That’s how I was raised.” Hester got a scholarship and graduated college, and quickly started working for the state in the 1950’s. She passed several tests to become an interviewer and had to travel to Trenton for the job. “I would wake up at 5am and traveled to Trenton via the Amtrak train. I loved that Amtrak train.”
She later married and had four children – three girls and one son. She was married for 68 years until her husband passed in 2021. She resides now with one of her children who lives in the same building, and she continues an active lifestyle.
“I eat correctly, and I feel good. I go to therapy three times a week thanks to my healthcare benefits from work. I also use a bicycle exercising machine my late husband got me, every day.”
“I get along with my coworkers. We do parties. I make fruit salads. I’m also the candy department,” she points to the row of boxes filled with chocolates and candy bars. “When someone comes in for an interview and they’re hungry, I say, ‘If you want to stay sweet, eat my candy’.” She’s also the unofficial decorator of the office. She draws and makes paper signs for all kinds of holidays and events. “I use my own materials. I make centerpieces. All kinds of things. I sew or whatever needs to be done.”
Her motivation to keep going, she finds, is something she tries to advise to those around her (if they want to hear it). “I told my niece, if you want to be somebody, you have to work for it. I advised her to get her GED, it’s a federal government program, and it’s free. Register with the state, etc. She’s now into real estate. Another who also took my advice is now a dentist. I learned from my mother, talk to the young people.”
Words of wisdom she wants to share with others? “You have to be nice to people. You have people that are mean, but don’t want to be mean it’s just because they have a mental illness. And I’m glad they have programs for mental health.” She adds, “But who am I to tell you to do this and that. If they want to hear it, I’ll tell them. If they don’t, I leave it alone. I pray for them like I want them to pray for me.”
Hester plans to continue working to serve the public for as long as she can.