NEENAH, Wis. — The sewing machine was known as the Queen of Inventions.
Nice, but we’re not here to talk about that.
We’re here to talk about Carla Steward, who, if there was such a contest, would be in the running for Queen of Reinventions.
As a kid, Steward wanted to be a flight attendant and after finishing college, she became one. But then, her financial picture changed, so she did too. She hopped into the health care industry, working as a CNA. She later entered the radiology program, but that didn’t work out. So she decided she would get a nursing degree instead and was halfway toward that goal when her mom passed away.
After that, her desire to become a nurse disappeared, and she ended up buying a 26-foot camper and pursued her passion for camping.
“And I started pulling this camper, going places, and I just realized, ‘I love this,”’ she said. “‘I could do this for a living.’”
So say hello to Carla Steward, truck driver.
“A lot of my friends say I’m crazy,’’ said Steward. “My son, he thinks that’s pretty cool.
“So I’m trying to teach my children that if there’s something you want to do in life, figure out a way to make to make it happen,” she said. “I’m trying to set an example for my children that you’ve got to follow your dreams and have something that you’re passionate about, something that you want to do, and set goals.”
Steward loved being 30,000 feet in the air. Even after 9/11, when she admitted she had anxiety attacks for several days each time the gate agent shut the aircraft door, she felt her purpose was to remain and “make this environment safe for our passengers.”
But when her employer, Northwest Airlines, filed for bankruptcy in 2005, its union contracts became null and void, and Steward’s paycheck took a nosedive.
“And I sat down once and realized my entire paycheck was going for child care,’’ she said.
So she parachuted out.
She enjoyed healthcare, too. But after 15 years of working weekends and limited flexibility, and when she could not get off for her goddaughter’s wedding…
“And it just was… this is it,’’ she said. “You know, I need to do something else. I need to move on.”
She bought her camper and, indirectly, found her passion once more.
Steward chose the truck driving program at Fox Valley Technical College.
“They were just so encouraging and they shared their stories and I just loved all the instructors,’’ she said. “It was amazing.”
When she finished, she put together a list of things she wanted: No weekends, no night shifts, holidays off, and some flexibility.
“And PTI hit everything on my list,’’ she said of Paper Transport, a De Pere-based trucking company.
“So I am a scrap driver,’’ she said. “So I go to recycling centers, like up in Green Bay, down in West Bend, and they will load us up with bales of recycled paper. And then, I take that paper back to the paper mill and that’s what they use to make, like, the toilet paper and the paper toweling.’’
Trucking remains a male-dominated profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 10% of America’s 3 million truck drivers are women. But the number of women entering the field has been steadily increasing in recent years.
“Unfortunately, truck driving for so many years, it’s always been kind of a man’s job, right?’’ said Rob Behnke, director of the truck driving program at FVTC. “It’s always been stereotyped as something that a guy does. And so that was something we had to kind of do a breakthrough there. It’s important for people like Carla to just emphasize to other ladies that this is a successful career, regardless of gender.
“Women in Trucking; there’re organizations out there to support women while they’re in the industry. I’d go on record saying that typically, ladies do a really good job in school. And then, typically, ladies are the ones with the best retention, where they’re committed to a carrier after they’ve been able to make that choice. So it’s important for ladies to come through the program and share their stories. I think that’s huge; to get the word out to other ladies out there.”
Steward said her experience with PTI has only solidified her belief that she made the right decision.
“Where I work, it is almost like I have a bunch of big brothers watching out for me,’’ she said. “And it’s just a really family-oriented company. People are always checking in on me and there’s always people to help.”
She hopes she’s setting a good example, not only for women, but for her two sons.
“So I try to encourage my children to try new things,’’ she said. “And if I’m doing it, I’m hoping they’re going to be able to do that in life as well. The skills to be able to handle things in life when challenges come up and you need to go to Plan B. Hopefully, you have a Plan B.’’
And Steward will tell you, having a Plan C isn’t a bad idea either.
Story idea? You can reach Mike Woods at 920-246-6321 or at: email@example.com