At just 17, Ila Gluhm had a choice to make.
“My dad put his arm around me and asked if I would like a couple of cattle when I graduated from High School,” recalled Ila. “He had given my older brothers some acreage and cattle when they graduated and he thought he should do the same for me.”
Her parents valued a strong work ethic and instilled that in their children. At just age 15, Ila herself spent summers away from home, staying with relatives, working as a waitress.
“We were expected to work on the farm or work. They didn’t let me just sit around and look pretty,” said Ila.
As for cattle, Ila was not too sure. She was concerned that her brothers might tease her about not taking good care of the cows. She declined the gift, asking to be sent to college instead.
Ila (second from left) with classmates in an NSB office.
“Clarence Jacobson from National School of Business [NSB] had visited Harrold High School earlier in the year, and he later came out to the farm,” said Ila. “Not everyone had telephones and there was no internet. So, to let people know about the college, Mr. Jacobson had to visit many small towns.”
Ila’s parents agreed to pay for Ila’s tuition, which at the time was $30 per month, plus $5 each month for spending money. Ila paid for her own books, buying used books from previous students.
“I graduated from Harrold High School on May 18, 1948 and 10 days later I was in class at NSB,” said Ila.
Ila Gluhm (second row, third from right) in typing class at National School of Business.
After a short stay at the YWCA, Ila moved in with the Whiting family, where she was asked to do dishes and, on occasion, watch the two children who were 8 and 10 at the time. Charles Whiting was an attorney in Rapid City; the law firm of Whiting Hagg Hagg, LLP still bears his name.
“The Whitings had called the business school looking for a student who could offer some help,” recalls Ila. “They were a lovely family. I kept in touch with Charles and Rosemary until they passed away.”
The Whitings home was within walking distance of the college.
“I walked rain, snow or shine,” said Ila. “I still wear the rubber boots I used to get to and from college.”
A Successful Student
Ila enjoyed success while at NSB, making honor roll, winning a democracy essay contest, and winning “Most A’s At NSB,” all of where were reported in either her hometown paper, the Harrold Journal, or the Rapid City Journal.
“Again topping the honor list at the National School of Business with six A’s for the past six weeks was Ila Gluhm of Harrold,” boasted the Rapid City Journal in November 1948.
And, the Harrold Journal shared news of her consistently making the honor roll, her graduation in 1949, and her success in an essay contest.
“Winners of the city-wide ‘Democracy Works here’ essay contest announced today,” the Harrold paper reported. “First prize of $15 was awarded to Jeanne A. Brown, a student at the National School of Business in the college competition. Ila V. Gluhm, another NSB student, won the other college prize.”
Like many alumni of the 40s, Ila also remembers the dances held at the veterans hall, the Baken Park Pavilion, and the annual NSB Spring Formal Dance at the Alex Johnson Hotel. In 1949, 160 people attended the NSB dance.
“Student officers and committees helped plan the dance. I was on the entertainment committee,” said Ila.
Although there is no question that Ila was a very good student, she does recall one incident which brought the ire of her teacher, Mrs. Boyd.
“She was diagramming a sentence wrong,” said Ila. “To this day, I know I was right but Mrs. Boyd didn’t want to hear it. I kept pushing until she threatened to write me up for insubordination. I didn’t know that meant – I looked it up after class - but it sounded serious so I stopped pushing. She was not very happy with me right then.”
Her strong German will and work ethic certainly contributed to that incident with Mrs. Boyd, but that same temperament is what carried her through college – and ultimately life – so successfully.
On May 27, 1949, Ila completed her one-year Senior Secretarial Degree and set off on life post-college.
Like most NSB graduates at the time, Ila secured immediate employment. She worked for Montana Dakota Utilities working for Jim Phillips, a Division Engineer, in Rapid City, South Dakota.
At the time, MDU was located next to the old post office, and directly behind the MDU building was a Presbyterian church.
“One day, a priest came by MDU asking Jim and me for a favor,” recalled Ila. “A young couple from out-of-state wanted to get married and he needed a couple of witnesses. I’ve never forgotten that since it was so unexpected. I never saw the couple again and have always wondered how it worked for them.”
By this time she was rooming with two fellow NSB alumni, Betty Erickson and Joy Bagley, friends she has kept in touch with ever since.
“One time, this Air Force guy from New York was making fun of us. Betty and Joy were from North Dakota and I was from South Dakota, so he figured we’d never get out of the Dakotas,” recalls Ila. “Well, with my German personality, I took his teasing as a challenge.”
And, Ila was ready for a change. By 1951, she had worked at MDU for more than 2 years and had $200 saved.
“Mr. Jacobson gave me a good recommendation and referred me to the Barnes School of Commerce. So, I packed 2 suitcases, made reservations at the YWCA and headed to Denver.”
She knew then that she didn’t want to work in a bank or for an insurance company, so Ila set her sights on oil companies recognizing that they would pay better. The Barnes School of Commerce referred her to Carter Oil (which later became Exxon) and from December 1951 to December 1952, she provided the company typing and shorthand.
“It was a non-thinking job,” said Ila. “I was reading Herb Caen’s book, The San Francisco Book, and thought ‘why not?’”
So, once again, Ila was on the move, this time with $500, a big trunk, and 2 suitcases. She rode with a friend who was heading to San Francisco to join her husband who had been transferred with the U.S. Navy to Hawaii. Upon arriving, they stayed at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. The next day, her friend caught her flight to Hawaii
“The Fairmont Hotel was the cat’s meow,” recalls Ila. “Two days later, I was at the YWCA, but it was nice to be spoiled for a bit.”
She started job searching, still wanting to work for an oil company, going door-to-door.
“Three days later, on December 12, 1952, Shell Oil Company offered me a job,” says Ila – a job that launched her career. She worked for Shell Oil for more than 38 years, retiring on May 1, 1991, splitting her years evenly between San Francisco and Houston, where she worked until her retirement.
With Shell, she handled personnel issues, helping employees access their pension and health benefits, and also within human resources, marketing, research and development, and union negotiations. In her early days with Shell, she recalls using a comptometer, a calculating device that pre-dates the modern day calculator.
“My degree really served me well,” said Ila. “I was able to secure immediate employment which gave me skills and helped me save enough money to continue to advance in positions I really enjoyed. I had a long and satisfying career.”
These days, Ila enjoys retirement in Rapid City, South Dakota, her adult life coming full circle back to the very place it started. She remains connected with fellow alumni from National School of Business and others she met during her time in college.
When looking through her NSB keepsakes, she came across a quote she wrote down and saved all these years:
“You can’t expect to make the most of your business education in school if you make the least of yourself outside of school.”
“I don’t know who said it. It might have been Mr. Jacobson,” said Ila. “But I must have thought it was particularly profound at the time. And, in fact, I’ve always taken on challenges to prove to myself and others that I can. It certainly has made for an interesting and fulfilling life.”
About the author
Tamie Hopp is the Director of Alumni & Foundation Services for National American University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on alumni relations, visit nauconnect.com. Information about the NAU Foundation can be found at naufoundation.org.