Half-century Veterans Chronicle Changes

Working at the Coop:

Harvard Square isn't what it used to be. Once, college students had manners. Harvard men wore ties and blazers; Radcliffe women had to wear gloves in public--or face demerits.

Stores have come and gone, trolleys have been replaced by subway cars and Sunday strollers have given way to punk rockers. In the midst of these monumental changes, one landmark has remained the same--the Coop, formally known as The Harvard Cooperative Society.

For more than 50 years, four women have watched the area grow and the students change. Alice Knox '19, Estelle Sutherland, Helen Cummings and Bess Makris have worked at the Coop for the past half-century.

Hard Knox

Alice Knox, a Radcliffe graduate who still leads the college's annual graduation procession, recently retired after working 57 years for the Coop--over half of its 105 year existence. According to Coop President James A. Argeros, she was the Coop's longest standing employee. "We honor her at every possible occasion," he says.

Argeros is not the only one who remembers Knox fondly. Langdell Law Professor Emeritus Erwin N. Griswold wrote Knox a letter of congratulations after an article about her appeared in Harvard Magazine several years ago. That letter has become one of her prized possessions, Knox says.

It was not age or boredom that brought on Knox's retirement, Argeros explains. When her son-in-law retired and moved the family to New Hampshire, "Cambridge would have been too long a commute."

Although Knox no longer works at the Coop, she says she tries to get down to Cambridge to do her Christmas shopping. "The Coop is my favorite store and always will be," the 90-year-old woman says.

Knox worked at the Coop through many changes, and she remembers when the textbook department was not self-service and all the books were set up in packing boxes. She cites the current self-service in the department as "a wonderful way to handle the large increase in the number of students and titles."

But "the thrill of personally waiting on some famous person is gone," Knox says. She remembers waiting on Franklin Roosevelt as an experience "much more exciting than to have just seen him come in, packed up his books, and watched him leave."

The most important change the Coop has undergone, according to Knox, is the addition of a women's store. "The women's department was a great step forward," she says, adding it is "almost as important as the right to vote for women."

Knox says one change particularly pleased her: "Years ago, old people were not as welcome in retail stores as they are now." Without this change, Knox might not have been able to stay at the Coop as long as she did.

Knox says she is enjoying her retirement, but she misses the Coop. "I feel as if I am really past history, but it sure is a pleasant feeling to be remembered," she says.

Estelle Cooped Up

Estelle Sutherland has been at the Coop almost as long as Knox. She spent most of 1984 in retirement. But, when the Coop opened its Medical Center branch in 1985, Sutherland says she was asked to return to work--for "a few days." "I ended up staying," she says, "and I have already been there for two years." Sutherland says she does not plan to retire in the near future.