30 years at ANF Architects, by Jim Wilkins

(The following blog is derived from excerpts taken from Jim Wilkins "prepared remarks" given at the luncheon celebrating his 30th anniversary with the firm.  Enjoy!)

30 years at ANF Architects, a.k.a. Lee Askew III Architects, a.k.a. Askew Nixon Ferguson & Wolfe Architects, a.k.a. Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects 

May, 1984.  I was 21, in college at Memphis St., and looking for a job.  Theresa saw a posting at Christian Brothers College for a summer intern position at an architect's office in Midtown.  So I called, made the appointment, and showed up in my best coat and tie (actually my only coat and tie).  I was asked to wait in the 1503 conference room.  Shortly, I heard someone bounding down the steps as fast as anyone possibly could, and Bill Nixon introduced himself.  Nixon interviewed me briefly, and I got the job. 

That summer, Tony, another office intern, and I ran errands, worked on Lee's old Chrysler car, worked on Tony's VW Beetle, fixed things, painted things, ran bluelines (learning that too much ammonia is bad), made deliveries, you name it.  I think I was paid $4 an hour.  My first drafting-related task that summer, I was handed an electric eraser and told to start erasing.  I'd never seen an electric eraser before.  OMG, this thing was incredible.  Burned a hole right through that vellum.  Uh-oh. 

Three months later, in August '84, Lee asked if I'd like to go out to Federal Express, someplace called CAC.  We had a team starting out there lead by Jane Zinkand, so I jumped at the chance.  Lee said we’d be out there maybe six months.  Five years later, the contract ended and I came back to the office.  

Soon after we started at CAC, I was hired full time.  The downside to working full time was that I had to switch to night classes at Memphis St., trying to finish my degree.  In December ’90, I finished.  Nine years of college - geez, I thought it would never end. 

While at CAC, later renamed CTC, I perfected many skills, including the art of licking the dried out plotter pens to get 'em going again, synchronized rustling of cellophane with Randy Bence, and configuring series 9000 Steelcase systems furniture. 

Lordy, I could write volumes about those years at FedEx, those were some of the best years of my life.  I worked with some of the best people too, folks that are still some of the best friends I ever had.  Ever had bologna pizza?  I have, with David "baloney" Keeton. The Hedge, Wag, Jerry, Lionell, Lula, Charles Bradley, Tommy, Sandy, Jill, Courtney, Steve, Papatya, The Bence-ster, and our boss, Jennifer Adair.  I was priviledged to work with you all.  If you haven't seen the Bence Book of Excuses, Volume I - A through God's Will, just ask Gary Wagoner to show it to you. 

I had worked at ANF for 15 years before my time in the office equaled my time out of the office.  I've been sent to work on contract for FedEx (twice), HBG, JMGR, Belz, MSCAA. They all tried to hire me, except FedEx.  I never really told anyone this, but I was so disappointed that FedEx only wanted to hire Hedgepeth, and not me too.  We were a team, dammit!  Oh well, I think things turned out ok. 

I've sat in the cockpit of a Flying Tigers 747. I've walked around the FedEx hub at night. I've watched the Concord land at MEM while standing on the roof of Module E at CTC. I participated in a halon test at the Module I generator addition, during which I learned first hand how halon works!  And I've witnessed Randy Bence dump thousands of paper punches onto his head in front of Ophelia Tyson. Oh we had some great times during those years. 

Once when I returned to the office after being sent out on contract, I went to my desk and someone was sitting there working.  I said, "excuse me, you're in my spot".  It was Thor, the Norse god of thunder.  Fortunately for me, Thor moved on, but to this day, he shows up in the weirdest places - on the office calendar, signed up for art shows, things like that. Weird! 

Then there was the time the sandwich shop across the street from the office was robbed one evening about 5 p.m., and the robber ran out into Union Ave, and gunfire erupted.  I said some expletives, dove under my desk, and called 911, and shouted, "They're shooting at us!" Great memories through the years include the various studio skits we used to do, like The Wizard of Oz (I was the Scarecrow), Rappin Fish Heads, Charlie's Angels (I was Bosley).  I remember others as well - The Chain Gang, lead by Sherriff Nixon, The Supremes, New Kids Been Around the Block One Too Many Times.  I remember singing Blue Christmas at Leslie's place downtown, singing with "Elvis" at my 20th anniversary party, Robert Marcy yelling in my ear, "You want some cake?" at my 40th birthday party. Becky Marshall and I met Allison Kraus at Jonh & Sandy Williams' wedding in Nashville. True story. 

Christmas is very special at ANF.  I love the personal ornaments we put up each year, they bring back such fond memories of people and good times.  Many years I have been the last to leave and lockup before Christmas.  I turn off all the lights except for the tree and just stare silently and think about old friends.  Such great people who helped me, taught me, encouraged me, befriended me: Leslie E. Smith, Benny J. Baggett, Jeff Hedgepeth, Linda Smith, Carol Whitaker, Bill Nixon, Bill Ferguson, Dan Garrigan, Stephen G. Hill, Emily Tickle Thomas...  


Great projects I've had the privilege to work on: the IRS Service Center, the new Memphis Animal Services facility, CSI (I wonder if Joe kept those sketches of Madonna's bra), many a Dobbs project for Dan.  On the IRS project, I punchlisted over 5,000 items together with Troy Lee from Mortenson.  Poor Rhonda listened to tape after tape, typing all those items in.  I'm sure she thought it would never end. 


Such great friends: Brian D. Eschman, Robert E. Land, Jr., Derrick Choo, John L. Williams, Paula Jean Myers, Tava Beau Frazier.  When my father passed away in 2005, I got the call here that morning.  Linda was first to hug my neck while I cried, then Carol, Julie, others. Special folks. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now without those who’ve quit before me: Cindi Wagner, Curtis Warhurst, Amanda Chrisco.  I love being the I.T. person for ANF. Hardly a day goes by where I don't learn or read about some new or changing technology. 

How many people have I passed in the ANF hallways in 30 years?  I counted about 150, plus everyone working here today. 

These are some dates frozen in time for me during my 30 years at ANF: 

    • Jan. 28, 1986: Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.  Many of us went to the breakroom in Module J because it had a TV, and watched in disbelief what had happened  
    • Feb. 7, 1989: Kathy Ireland made the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  I still hang that poster every St. Patrick's Day.  No, Joe, you can't have it! 
    • March 9, 1999: Al Gore said he invented the internet, or something to that effect.  Now look what you've done, it’s both good and evil at the same time.  This is pretty messed up sir. 
    • Dec. 30, 2013: the day I took and passed my last ARE exam to become a licensed architect.  Seriously?  I, uh, I did pass, right?  Really?  Holy crap!  In 12th grade, way back in 1981, I figured out what I wanted to be - I won first place in my high school drafting class's competition to draw some house plans.  I talked with Jerry Durham, Architect, who was a deacon in my church, about how to become an architect.  Some 32 years later, my dream came true.  I know my father smiled down on me that day, and I know he would have shook my hand with that mighty grip he had, and said he was proud of me.  I miss him every single day. 

In 30 years at ANF, I've had 3 cars, 8 dogs, 5 desks, 720 paychecks, spent about 10,000 hours driving and driven over 300,000 miles to work and back home, had 1 wreck, and taken 9 trips to Walt Disney World with my beautiful wife of 27 years now, Theresa.  I’ve won the office basketball pool once, the Dallas Cowboys won 3 championships, the Chicago Cubs won none, and I've had 1 job.

 I love this job. 

Thank ya, thankyavaramuch. 

 Jim Wilkins, AIA 
 Associate / Systems Manager ANF Architects
Posted by Eli Cloud at 3:21 PM
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