If you lived in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s and spent any time at the “Golden Arches,” you may have ordered your burger and fries from members of an exclusive group of teenagers. And if so, you probably got the best food service of your life.
For a few years between “You deserve a break today” (1971) and “We do it all for you” (1975) there was a team of young people working at the McDonald’s Corbin Village with a work ethic rivaled by members of the military. Under the tutelage of manager Rich Indresano, who some say was “the best we ever worked for,” this group of about a dozen people bonded around a set of ideals that’s lasted almost half a century.
That’s what they celebrated last Saturday at Wolf Creek Brewery in Santa Clarita – a 45th reunion from their days at McDonald’s in Woodland Hills.
It was organized by Russ “Beak” Briley, former executive VP, community relations and audience development at The Signal newspaper. He not only booked the site, sent the invitations, and arranged food and beverages, Briley held a tongue-in-cheek ceremony where he awarded personalized gag gifts to each of his former fellow employees. Memories were not limited to antics on the job, however. They ranged from weekends at Lake Nacimiento to ribbing about the cars they drove (Impala and Vega were mentioned). And their former boss, Rich Indresano, was awarded an official McDonald’s golf bag signed by his former employees.
Beloved by the team, Indresano was more than just a workplace superior. For instance, when Briley was a teen, his mother died and he went to live with a sister in Woodland Hills, escaping an abusive stepfather and coping with social acceptance at a new school.
“I got a job at McDonald’s and everything changed,” he said. “I became great friends with these people and we were inseparable for three years. We would get off work at McDonald’s, go shower, and meet back at work and go out.”
Briley’s new friends helped him overcome a lot of baggage, but it was also the support of Indresano that made a difference.
“Rich, I felt, always knew that I had a rough past and became a surrogate father over those three years, at least in my mind,” Briley explained. “He helped me over a few personal issues, as well as taught me a work ethic while giving us space, knowing we were 18-year-old kids.”
Briley left McDonald’s to work at Magic Mountain for a 35-cent-an-hour raise.
“After two weeks I walked into McDonald’s on a Friday night and Rich was working,” Briley said. “He walked over and without me saying a word, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You are working tomorrow 12 to 8! Be on time.’”
Many members of the old McDonald’s gang graduated from UCLA, including Al Overholt Marsh, a bacteriology major who became a teacher and retired as an assistant principal. He posted the following comments to his friends following the reunion:
“Incredible, isn’t it, that a few years of our lives at a fast food restaurant begot our coming of age, our outstanding work ethic, our knowledge of a value of a dollar because we had to work an hour for one, our growth as individuals, team players, and future leaders, knowing what a family is outside our own, life-long friends and memories, and even partners for life, ‘til death do you part.”
Several marriages resulted from the ‘70s McDonald’s team, and their occupations were a testament to the drive these teenagers had – both then and now. The group includes two medical doctors, a water sports expert, attorney, VP at Universal Orlando, coal mining management, sales exec, race car driver, auto parts chain owner, SFV real estate broker, a judge, newspaper exec and vice-principal.
Cindy Ulfig of Santa Clarita, a deputy DA for 15 years, was one of the first females hired by McDonald’s. She wasn’t allowed to work after 8 p.m. and, therefore, couldn’t be promoted to manager, so she left after a year.
“You learn to follow rules,” Ulfig said of the combined success of the former McDonald’s employees. “I think a lot of it was because it was customer service, you had to deal with people, get out of your zone, work with others.”
San Francisco attorney Marc Litton caught up with old friends.
Marc Litton, a UCLA grad and an attorney in San Francisco, went to West Africa with the Peace Corps a few years after working at McDonald’s.
“We worked the night shift mostly and it was a crazy, crazy time,” he said of his McDonald’s experience. “It was a company store, as opposed to a franchise, and inspectors could come … all kinds of crazy things happened on the night shift.”
Tom Burnett was promoted to manager, but was equally a member of the clan.
“We all clicked,” he said. “We’d go to Don Breheer’s parents’ house … we’d have ping pong tournaments that would last until three in the morning.”
As for the franchise, Burnett sees a big difference between the McDonald’s then compared to today.
“It’s a total business now,” he said. “Back then – remember the old McDonald’s, the old fishbowls, where everyone was watching you? We all felt that.”
After Reseda High School, Burnett also became a UCLA Bruin, and though he majored in linguistics, he followed his love of cars to become owner of a chain of auto parts stores.
Another unusual piece of history for this former McDonald’s crew is that two of the men – brothers Tim and Mike McNicoll – both became medical doctors.Dr. Tim McNicoll amused his reunion friends by showing up in his McDonald’s uniform shirt.
One didn’t have to be a member of this exclusive “club” to feel the affection between the men and women who attended the reunion. Big smiles and hours of stories said it all. And if any of this special group of McDonald’s veterans have followed their old workplace into its future incarnation, you can probably predict what they’re saying about their evening together:
“I’m lovin’ it!”