Ella McNeary’s story written by Lenore Allen
Ella is 72 years old
I came to Muncie in 1965 from Dayton, Ohio, after a 12-month internship. That’s when I got the job at Ball Memorial Hospital. I was the second black dietician that they ever had. The first one, Mrs. Gaylord, worked there a few months. Her husband was completing his degree as a veterinarian. Then, they left.
I was at Ball Memorial Hospital for a year and a half as a clinical dietician. Then, I went to Ball State. I was hired easily at both jobs. To talk about the racism in Muncie is a touchy subject. I worked at Ball State for 28 years and retired at 51. I’m 72 now.
At Ball State after Betty Tipton left to work for Muncie Public Schools, I was the only registered dietician on the staff at Ball State dining service. The first department head, Ms. Ellen Nicholson, was a great head of the department. She was like a mother. She was a sweet lady. You could go to her with your problems. She kept things confidential. Information wasn’t written on your evaluation or job description. She was very honest, trustworthy, and decent with high moral standards. I presume she was very spiritual. I had a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree, so I had more education than anyone else in the department including my past and present boss at the time.
After working 24 years, there were two positions that were open in the department.I was a Manager, an M-4 or the fourth level of management. I was competing for the job with assistant managers, M-2s or people who were on the second level of management. The snack bar managers were M-3s, or the third level of management.This position of Assistant Director of Dining service was the second position of the same name. We already had one Assistant Director. This position was created by the boss. It was posted supposedly in all of the national journals, so anyone in the United States could have applied for this position. You had to have a minimum of a Master’s degree in management or food service in order to apply.
I had Food Nutrition and Institutional Management. I was the only one who had that background. I had a Master’s degree in Dietetics and Health Science. I was mighty knowledgeable for the position. I had worked at Studebaker dining service at Ball State for over 28 years. I had plenty of experience under my belt, especially with the maintenance budget.
There always seemed to be maintenance issues and I was steady making requests to have things repaired. A few things would get done, but not the major requests, which meant that each year that there was money left that went into a sinking fund at Ball State.Over the years, I saved the University at least $8,400,000 which helped to build new dormitories that they probably didn’t need. Surely that should have been enough experience.
I applied for the position knowing that my present Department Head probably would not appreciate it. I felt that she didn’t want to work with me because I was black. I was right because an M-2 received the position. It was someone that I had previously supervised. Almost all of the M-2s and M-1s had worked under my supervision at some point in time.A few of my co-workers egged me on to ask the Director about the position. “Ella, what are you gonna do about it?”
They knew I was the best person for the position. This was in the summer time. Ed, my son and I were in Canada. I was just getting over a cold so I wasn’t thinking about anything, but my illness. It was so unfair knowing that I was the only one who was qualified for the position. Anyone else would have to take Bachelor’s degree classes as well as Master’s in order to gain the knowledge and credentials required for the position.
I didn’t corner anyone to talk to them about any of this. I went straight to the Muncie Human Rights Commission. I told them that I was there for an age discrimination lawsuit. I decided to use a law firm from Indianapolis. I was in my 40s and I noticed there were not people in management in that age range. Only the young women were hired, but women my age. . .we were dependable. Most women my age didn’t have children. I wanted to file against the department head, but the university wouldn’t allow me, so I had to sue Ball State University. I had no other choice. I believe I was the first black single woman to file a lawsuit against Ball State.
I went to the EEOC which was a waste of my time and theirs as well. The Ball Family owned most things in Muncie. I felt like little David going against Goliath.Then I felt like Lot and those friends of his. I got frightened about it, but it seems like God would open windows for me at times. And I would say, “O God, you’ve done it again!”
I remember before the depositions things would be placed in my hands. I had to thank God. When I reviewed them, I had 73 exhibits. My department head only had 9 exhibits which was mostly untrue. Every now and then I would hear that our department head said that she could not discuss this or that because of the lawsuit. It made me feel uncomfortable. People were walking on eggshells and the grapevine was very long. Immediately someone would know what you had said. There were accusations from the department head that I kept my employees in an uproar all the time. I know this came from my department head because I saw it on paper.
These allegations were not true. As time went on we settled. It was not a big settlement. Not nearly what people thought I received.You know the black community would make comments like, “Girl, I know you got about $500,000!” No, I did not.
My husband and I had always been frugal. We didn’t always spend our money. I was a saver. The one thing that we did was pay off the house. I stayed at Ball State until I was 50. I could retire because I had more than 15 years of service. My son was going to college and he would receive 75 percent off of his tuition if I did so. I stayed there until 1995 and he graduated in 1998. It was a long journey and very stressful. This began in 1991 and it ended in 1995. I lost $45,000 because I retired at 50 instead of 66 years old. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t make $45,000 when I left because Ball State did not pay me well. And they treated me worse. I went to the library and discovered the Board of Trustees minutes. I would look at raises they had given people. Different people had gotten raises from 8% to 11%. I have had evaluations that I felt were incorrect and I felt discriminated against.
It was written into one of my evaluations that I did not appear to have read the engineer or architect’s report for that day. At one point they were going to renovate Studebaker dining service. I still don’t recall that I had never read their notes, but that was put in the evaluation. This was not in my job description. Using the term, “it appeared” was very misleading.
But life after retirement has been fulfilling and rewarding. Volunteering has been my motivation and passion. I have stayed involved in helping others and the community through the NAACP, the YMCA, and Trinity United Methodist Church where I am involved in the ministry. I try to reflect God in all I do because I know that I would have never made it in life without God and my faith. I know that I would have never made it in life without God and my faith.
This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.