By Candace Sipos -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Gene Schultz isn't sure how many countries he has been to -- maybe 12. But he has lived within a three-mile radius of Winchester since he was an infant.
He has welcomed visitors from 35 different nations into his home, and he has a partially filled guest book sitting near his front door.
Schultz has been married to the same woman he met the first day of freshman orientation at the College of William and Mary. He lives in a home only one block south of John Handley High School, his alma mater, and he's retiring from a 35-year career at the same office.
Schultz, 58, is the fourth person to have managed the Winchester branch of the Virginia Employment Commission. He was appointed manager when he was only 26, after three years of working as a farm placement specialist.
He has been enjoying unofficial early retirement since Nov. 1, because he had accumulated so much time off.
"When you realize it's time to go, there's something that clicks in your brain," Schultz said.
Although he has experienced the cyclical fluctuation of unemployment rates, endured countless complaints from local residents who couldn't find jobs and dealt with year after year of the same unemployment insurance applications, Schultz continues to praise and value the work of the VEC.
One of his favorite memories involves a child he knows only as "David," a ninth-grader who was wheelchair-bound and could only move his hand. After visiting David's class in the early 1990s and explaining to the high-schoolers some tips on finding jobs, David wrote Schultz a thank you note by connecting the dots to the words his teacher mapped out on a piece of loose-leaf paper.
"That's one of the best thank-you notes I've ever gotten," Schultz said, holding up the almost wrinkle-free note. It was framed in his old office.
He believes the current unemployment situation, though considered by some to be quite grim, is much better than it could be.
"You don't have polluted industry up here," he said of Winchester. "We're not totally dependent on one sector of the economy, and that's not an accident."
Schultz has been a part of the birthing or transporting of dozens of businesses and factories into the Winchester area, and he has witnessed the extreme changes in hiring practices over the years.
In fact, VEC officials can't even accurately determine how many people they help, because their website guides thousands to other sites where they may find jobs. When the calculation was possible, they estimated helping about 2,000 Winchester area residents find jobs every year. Almost 500 local companies listed open positions with the VEC, he said.
Whereas people used to scribble their names and Social Security numbers on dozens of applications with the hope of one call-back, Schultz jokingly points out that his son, Ben, 25, has never applied for a job. He just keeps receiving calls from people who know about his work.
Schultz's daughter, Katie, 27, is a teacher in Williamsburg, and his wife, Karen, works as the director of the center for public service and scholarship at Shenandoah University.
Schultz himself thought about working in public education, and believes it has been an essential aspect of his career all along.
"We're helping people realize how the market has changed," he said.