She held the same job for 58 years, never looked for another

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After 58 years as a secretary for John M. Dorner Adjustment Co. in Johnson City, 83-year-old Zipay retired on Dec. 29, 2017.
Maggie Gilroy / Staff video

“Good afternoon, Dorner Adjustment Company.”

These words come naturally to Mona Zipay.

She’s had over half of a century of practice. 

After 58 years as a secretary for John M. Dorner Adjustment Co. in Johnson City, 83-year-old Zipay retired on Dec. 29, 2017. 

“I love what I did,” Zipay said. “I still do. But it’s time to stay home now.”

With over five decades in one job, Zipay has seen a lot of changes.

She’s followed the company to three locations before settling into its 116 N. Broad Street office in Johnson City in 1988. She’s typed on manual typewriters, electric typewriters and finally a computer.

She’s helped customers through natural disasters and fires, and remembers when women were not allowed to wear pants to work.

And she’s watched Mike and Patrick Dorner, the sons of her late boss John M. Dorner, become the heads of the company. They’ve grown a lot from when Zipay used to type up their book reports on the typewriter.

“I tell them I taught them everything they know,” Zipay said. “I don’t know if they’ll agree to that.”

John M. Dorner founded the independent insurance adjusting company in 1955. He met Zipay while they worked together for the General Adjustment Bureau in the former Press Building in Downtown Binghamton.

When John left the bureau to form his own company, he invited Zipay to work along with him. At first, she turned him down.

“I was happy where I was,” Zipay said. “It was the same kind of work. I guess I’m sedentary.” 

But John made Zipay an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she became the secretary for his new company. 

When Zipay began with the company, it was her first time using an electric typewriter.

“And it was very difficult because I was used to a manual,” she said.

John spoke insurance reports into Dictaphone machines, which Zipay used to transcribe the reports.

“It was a round cylinder and it looked like wax and the men would dictate and it would record their voice,” Zipay said. “And then after you typed it off this mechanism you would put it on this machine and it would shave that off and they could use the cylinder again.” 

The Dictaphone was later traded in for a Philips tape recorder. Patrick still owns the tape recorder along with the large, block-like Polaroid camera his father used to photograph incidents.

Notes were taken in shorthand, a practice that was later scrapped.

Technology was always evolving, and Zipay had to adapt to each new development.

“We had better and better equipment all the time,” Zipay said. 

Eventually, the company purchased a computer. 

“When I stop and think of it, I don’t know how we did it,” Zipay said of the old technology. “In that span of time you can really see things, how they have progressed.”

Zipay can type as many as 30 dictations in one day.

“She’s a phenomenal typist,” said Patrick’s wife MaryAnn Dorner. “She’s accurate and she’s fast.”

Until her retirement, Zipay reported to work each day at 8 a.m. (usually 10 minutes late, she admits) in rain, shine or snow. She switched from full-time to part-time over the past few years. But, apart from taking off time to give birth to her daughter and recover from a fall, Zipay has reported to work each day.

She’s professional on the phones, Patrick said, keeping an even temper when dealing with irate customers.

“When the companies call they don’t want to listen to an answering machine,” Patrick said. “But when they call they get Mona and they always said how good it is.”

Zipay has consoled many customers over the phone, a key quality when helping others recover from disasters such as theft or fire.

“They think insurance adjusters are going to cheat them and you have to assure them that we are not and go the extra mile with them,” Zipay said. “A few kind words does a lot.”

Zipay remembers when Hurricane Hazel blew out all of the windows in McLean’s department store in Downtown Binghamton in October of 1954. In 1998, between storms and a tornado in Vestal, the company completed 2,500 claims in one year. 

Zipay trained to be a secretary at Whitney Point High School, where she graduated in 1951. She had the choice between taking college entrance courses or business courses.

“I knew that I was not going to be able to go to college, so I chose the business,” Zipay said.

It was a step up from factory work, she determined.

There, she was taught to wear white gloves and a hat, never wear slacks and always wear stockings.

“We were not allowed to wear slacks to work,” Zipay said. “You had to wear a dress. And, once in a great while, on a Friday but they were not allowed. You just didn’t go to work in slacks.”

Now, Zipay wears slacks. But she always dresses professionally. When we meet, she is dressed in crisp white shirt and navy jacket, topped with a gold and peach pin.

“That was one of the things that impressed me about her,” said MaryAnn. “She’s always dressed up.”

 When Zipay graduated high school, jobs were not easy to come by.

“And, once you got a job, you were grateful to have it,” Zipay said. “And I think you stayed there longer.”

Patrick visited his father’s office often at a child, gifting Zipay with two bottles of wine after she helped type his book report. 

“We had a time to grow up together and it never created a problem of any kind,” Zipay said.

As she sits in her desk, a few steps from the office stairs, tears well in Zipay’s eyes as she talks about her favorite aspect of the job.

“The family,” she said. “The work was the same, wherever you worked was the same. We are like a family. It really is”

Throughout all 58 years, Zipay never looked for another job. She was just happy to have a job, she said.

“It probably sounds ridiculous, but it just was a good place,” Zipay said. “They were always good to me and I guess it worked for us.”

The Dorners marked Zipay’s last day on Dec. 29 with a party at Little Venice in Binghamton, complete with a Victorian-style cake decorated with a typewriter. 

She loves the Victorian era — she collects vintage hats — and the cake’s whip cream lace, pearls and pink flowers suited her style perfectly. 

The good-byes were hard. The last day was a sad one. 

“If I don’t talk about it, I’m okay,” she said. “If I talk about it I’m not okay.” 

Mike and Patrick have taken over Zipay’s duties, and miss her already.

For retirement, Zipay plans to do “nothing.”

She might sleep in and spend time with her husband, Dick. Her granddaughter is getting married this year, so she’s looking forward to that.

“You hate to leave the normal and what you’re used to and that’s what I was doing, so it was hard,” Zipay said. “But it was the right thing.”

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