Legacies Project Oral History: David Griffis
Wed, 01/15/2020 - 9:50am
David Griffis has lived in Detroit for his entire life except for two years of service in the military, when he went to Korea. He worked as a Personnel Technician for the Michigan Employment Security Commission and for Chrysler’s personnel department. He received a degree in business administration from Wayne State University, and went on to run two nursing home facilities in Detroit for over fifteen years. He has two daughters, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
David Griffis was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.
- [00:00:09.20] SPEAKER 1: --your cell phones, pagers, or anything else that beeps or makes noise.
- [00:00:14.24] DAVID GRIFFIS: I left the cell phone in the car, so no problem.
- [00:00:18.97] SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE] why is there a tissue in here?
- [00:00:22.74] SPEAKER 1: [LAUGHS] Paper towel?
- [00:00:24.97] SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Why?
- [00:00:27.17] SPEAKER 1: You know, we're trying to keep balance here. He was like, OK. I know, yeah.
- [00:00:31.02] SPEAKER 3: Am I supposed to hear everything on this side?
- [00:00:34.02] SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Because it's only one ear in.
- [00:00:36.08] SPEAKER 3: OK.
- [00:00:36.54] SPEAKER 1: I don't even know why either. So, yeah. Start recording.
- [00:00:39.30] SPEAKER 2: It's on.
- [00:00:39.75] SPEAKER 1: Oh, it's on already? Oh, OK. All right. So we're starting right now.
- [00:00:44.91] So, Mr. Griffis, did you remain there, or did you move around through your working adult life? And what was the reason for these moves?
- [00:00:56.06] DAVID GRIFFIS: Maybe you ought to start the question before this point. But let-- can I add something from yesterday?
- [00:01:03.99] SPEAKER 1: Yes.
- [00:01:04.37] DAVID GRIFFIS: You asked me one question yesterday about sayings that I might remember from when I was a kid. And it's kind of timely in terms of y'all hear about these infestation of bedbugs that's happening in the hotels in New York City, and theaters, and all that. And even here in Detroit, at the Riverfront Apartments. Well, when I was a kid, bedbugs were a major problem then. They were eradicated shortly after that, but they were a major problem.
- [00:01:40.85] We would say prayers before we went to sleep each night. And at the end of one of the prayers, there was a phrase we used to repeat-- "And don't let the bedbugs bite," because they would come out at night, and they would bite. You wouldn't feel them, and the next morning you'd wake up, and you'd have these bumps, and it'd be itching and whatnot.
- [00:02:00.71] Anyway, that's a saying that you might add to that other question regarding phrases that I might have remembered from when I was a kid.
- [00:02:11.97] So, anyway, back to this question. It's about moving around now? Would you repeat it for me?
- [00:02:19.23] SPEAKER 1: Do you remain there, or did you move around through your working adult life? And what was the reason for these moves?
- [00:02:27.35] DAVID GRIFFIS: As I mentioned yesterday, I've lived in Detroit all my life except for the two years that was in the military, when I went to Korea. But we moved from-- these are moves as a kid or as an adult? I don't remember--
- [00:02:44.27] SPEAKER 1: As an adult.
- [00:02:44.66] DAVID GRIFFIS: As an adult. Well, when I was married the second time, we had an apartment, lived on Ewald Circle at Wildemere. My daughter was born and we needed more space, so I bought a home on Oak Drive in Detroit. And that was the reason for that move.
- [00:03:09.59] Subsequently, I moved not too far from that-- after about 11 years-- in the same neighborhood, on a street called Fairway Drive, which is one of the streets that surrounds the Detroit Golf Club. Ironically, stayed there another 11 years and then moved to Bloomfield Township, where I live today. So I've been there about 20 years. But those were the moves, generally, as an adult, and the reasons for the moves.
- [00:03:42.29] Moving from Oak Drive to Fairway Drive was-- there was a home there, available at a great price that we liked, so we managed to get it. And then after that, my two daughters had both finished college, and we didn't need the house and thought that we'd look at condo living. And subsequently, we bought a home in Bloomfield Township. Those were the reasons.
- [00:04:10.41] SPEAKER 1: I would like for you to tell me a little bit about your marriage and family life. First, tell me about your spouse.
- [00:04:18.95] DAVID GRIFFIS: I'm divorced for the second time, as I mentioned yesterday. But I also may have mentioned yesterday that I met my second wife as a student at Wayne University, and that she was, at the time, engaged to another guy. And they married, and it didn't work out for them. And then meanwhile I married. It didn't work out after a couple of years. So we found ourselves in each other's company again, and we decided to make a go of it.
- [00:04:51.71] She was a student when we got married. She became pregnant and she was busy taking care of the baby. And she had a daughter from her other marriage, and doing that housewife thing. And it wasn't until probably two or three years after we were married that she went back to school, also at Wayne University, and got a bachelor's degree and then went to work for Wayne University in its counseling and guidance department, I believe. She had a degree in social [AUDIO OUT]. And then went back and got a master's also in counseling and guidance. And so as far as I know, she still does some outside counseling at Wayne State University now.
- [00:05:45.28] And what was the second part of that question?
- [00:05:48.79] SPEAKER 1: I said, first-- I said, first tell me about your spouse.
- [00:05:52.42] DAVID GRIFFIS: Right. And I've done some of that.
- [00:05:54.70] SPEAKER 1: Tell me a little about your marriage and family life.
- [00:06:00.13] DAVID GRIFFIS: It was typical marriage, I guess. [AUDIO OUT] and I was the breadwinner for a while. And then she-- I had gone into business, as I explained yesterday. And then after she finished school, by then it was-- after she got her master's it was maybe the early '80s. And we were in somewhat of a recession at the time, and jobs were a little difficult to come by. So she came to work with me in the nursing home business, and we worked together for a number of years. And then she went back to Wayne to work for Wayne University. And our daughters both went on to college and we're kind of an empty nest, and so we decided to move out of a house and into a condo situation because it didn't require as much of our time doing work outside the house, generally.
- [00:07:05.77] But by that time also, we were empty nesters and there were things that we disagree on, and we mutually agreed to separate and eventually divorce. We remain good friends today, though, as a matter of fact. We were together just a couple of weeks ago at one of my daughter's birthday, as a matter of fact, on the 16th of this month.
- [00:07:33.85] SPEAKER 1: Tell me about your children, and what life was like when they were young and living in the house.
- [00:07:44.03] DAVID GRIFFIS: There are 10 years difference in their ages. My oldest daughter was always the kind of a really big sister, almost an aunt, to my youngest daughter, who really, really looked up to her and respected her. And they are really close today. It was fun. It was a lot going on.
- [00:08:09.95] My youngest daughter was into gymnastics, and they were both into dance. There was a dance studio in Detroit at the time called Ziggy Johnson's School of Theater and Dance, and they were both very involved in it. And my wife was involved in that also. My oldest daughter wound up even teaching modern dance, or jazz or something, at Ziggy's.
- [00:08:41.09] We did a lot of vacationing. I remember one year we drove to-- we took a road trip across America, drove to California and went through the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas, and up to San Francisco, the Badlands, just generally covered whatever we could on the trip west.
- [00:09:07.01] My youngest daughter, in addition to gymnastics, when she got into middle school she got a chance to do cheerleading and was a cheerleader through her days at-- through high school and then at the University of Michigan. She went on to get a master's degree at American University in DC and then came back and got into a combined study program at Wayne University in psychology, where you entered into a program and after your first year of study you'd be granted the master's in psych, and then you moved into the PhD studies. And she did everything but the dissertation on her PhD studies. By that time, she'd gotten married and had a baby, and did not see it as being as important as she once did in getting the PhD. She does psychological testing and whatnot now.
- [00:10:23.42] My oldest daughter, because of the 10 years difference in her age, she left the house-- she left home earlier. She got married and had a child. So I have one-- my oldest grandson, her child, has two children now. So I'm a great-grandfather now, my oldest great-grandchild being about three years old.
- [00:10:51.05] And my daughter eventually wound up-- my oldest daughter-- moving to North Carolina and went to work for one of the Delta Airlines subsidiaries, and eventually moved into Florida with the job. She started as a counter person, a ticket agent I guess, and then went on to become a flight attendant and found herself living in Atlanta, then down in Florida, where she is today.
- [00:11:23.57] She and my oldest grandson and his two children, my great-grandchildren, are in the process of starting a pet grooming business [AUDIO OUT] area in Florida. And they were just here a couple of weeks ago. I had a chance to see them. And so life is good.
- [00:11:45.98] SPEAKER 1: Tell me about your working years.
- [00:11:50.45] DAVID GRIFFIS: We touched yesterday on my job experience once I got out of the military. I went to work for the Department of Social Service as a Social Worker II, which was really investigative more than anything else. And then went to work for the MESC as a I think they call it Personnel Technician Trainee, learned to do job descriptions and benefits studies and whatnot, surveys, employment surveys.
- [00:12:20.74] And that was the kind of experience some of the major automobile companies were looking for back in the early '60s when they began to look seriously at hiring minorities in management positions. And I worked at various jobs in what was then called Personnel as opposed to Human Resources now.
- [00:12:49.53] Worked in various capacities in Chrysler's personnel department for about five years. And by that time, I was in law school, and I had had enough of corporate life. And again, I left Chrysler. Was a full-time student for a year at [INAUDIBLE]. And that was a good move financially. I was able to do more for the family, and acquired one facility over on East Grand Boulevard, which I explained yesterday was kind of the birth of the nursing home industry here in-- here in Michigan, really. And then about a year and a half later, another facility over on Harper, across from Chandler Park.
- [00:13:43.96] And ran those, and had successful sales on both of them after about 15 to 17 years. Probably it was the largest nursing home chain in the country, and maybe even in the world at the time. It was called Beverly Enterprises, I believe. I managed to sell the one on Harper Avenue first because it was actually built as a nursing home facility, and it had a higher percentage of private paid patients, non-Medicaid patients, which meant that it made the business more viable. It was more profitable as opposed to the facility on East Grand Boulevard, which I was able to sell about a year and a half later and get out of that business.
- [00:14:47.92] I found myself getting back into the health care business, however, about 15 years later. And we sold the second of those facilities in '86, I think. In the mid '90s, Congregate care is a form of nursing home care, like personal care that isn't as demanding as-- it didn't require the intensive nursing care that the nursing home business did. That and assisted living were then the health care businesses to get into.
- [00:15:30.48] And because of my experience in that business and contacts that I had made, I wound up with a couple of other guys building an assisted living facility out in Northville, Michigan. That partnership didn't last long for several reasons, but after a long, lengthy lawsuit, the process ended just a couple of years ago, almost after nine years in the business. But it still remains a viable business in that health care service structure.
- [00:16:13.57] In addition to that, back in the '80s, I had administrators working at each of the nursing home facilities, so I found myself with time. And looking to do something else, I got involved in supplying Detroit public schools, and to a small degree the city of Detroit, with all kinds of [AUDIO OUT] like a middle man. And I would bid on contracts or request for bids and then make contact with manufacturers or suppliers or whoever I could at a cost in which I could take out a little profit on the interim.
- [00:16:57.68] I've sold the Detroit public school system all kinds of items, everything from two small Cessna 150 airplanes, aircraft, to food items, and just blankets, batteries, paper goods, hardware. I had hardware contracts with them for several years. Carpeting, just all sorts of things. So I've done a few things over the years. I hope that answers a bit of that question you just asked.
- [00:17:31.12] SPEAKER 1: What were your personal favorite things to do for fun?
- [00:17:37.71] DAVID GRIFFIS: Following up on what we talked about yesterday, in terms of playing basketball, I became an avid Pistons fan, and Lions, too. I've had season tickets for the Lions and Pistons for many years now.
- [00:17:58.52] I also mentioned yesterday that my parents got into the game of bridge, a card game. And I play a lot of bridge now. Two and three times a week, as a matter of fact. One of the things I have to do when I leave here in less than an hour now is to play bridge with some friends later on this afternoon.
- [00:18:24.12] Being with my grandsons is a real joy. The two who are here now, the younger two are 10 and almost 13. And we do all sorts of things. I'm in the process of teaching them how to fish, and they love fishing. I've taken them-- first of all, when you introduce somebody to fishing, fishing can be a very dull experience if you don't catch anything. You're just sitting out there with the pole in the water, or casting, and it gets very boring. And kids don't like to be bored very long.
- [00:19:06.33] So there is a stocked pond up just past Ann Arbor out 94, which I took them to. And these businesses they have, you can catch a fish almost every casting if you want. So I started them off there, where they could have the experience of catching fish so they would know what that was about. And it's kind of a thrill for the first time it happens to you, to pull something out of nature.
- [00:19:39.27] Anyway, I've got them involved in fishing. We're also experimenting with a few gardening products. One of the things I was responsible for when I was a kid was maintaining the outside-- the grass, the shrubberies. My grandmother had developed gardens out in southwest Detroit. So we'd gotten into a little gardening then, but not wanting to do it. But at any rate, I started doing that as a teenager, and then just broke off.
- [00:20:18.66] But last year and this year, I've gotten my grandsons involved in planting. And we've got tomatoes growing, and cucumbers, and hopefully some peppers, and carrots, and whatnot. So they're excited about that when they see it grow. But the prep work, naturally-- which they have to learn, of course-- is, again, boring. But they're kind of into it now. So that's something I really-- and travel. Travel is always a good thing. And I read a lot. If I think of something else, I'll let you know. Maybe we can go on to the--
- [00:21:02.48] SPEAKER 1: What do you like about traveling?
- [00:21:07.55] DAVID GRIFFIS: I like experiencing different cultures, seeing how people do it in other areas, and even here in the US. Culture is different this part of the Midwest and the East Coast, or the West Coast. In addition to seeing the natural changes in the landscape of the country. In the West, for example, as you know, it's very mountainous and very scenic. And it's very interesting going from, let's say, at sea level to, in the summertime, a mild climate up into the mountains, where people are actually skiing, all in a matter of an hour or so.
- [00:22:05.15] And the world is such a-- it offers such different landscapes. It's just a chance to see, to get beyond the immediate, everyday scenery and things that you've seen become so accustomed to be around. The ocean is a wonderful experience. To see what the ocean produces is also very interesting. In the morning, after the tides have receded, there are all kinds of sea creatures and whatnot left on the shore. Anyway, those are just some of the things.
- [00:22:51.50] I tell you about one experience, terrible experience that I remember. And it was kind of an involuntary experience when I was in the service, and that was when I traveled to Korea. We went by troop ship. It was like a 16-day trip across the Pacific Ocean.
- [00:23:12.08] And about two days before we reached Korea, you could smell it. And we wondered why until we got there, and then we realized that the reason that this odor kind of just drifted across the ocean was because for centuries, they've been using human waste to fertilize the soil. So it's like-- I don't know-- many, many feet of this in the ground, and it just gives off a natural odor, which was rather offensive at times.
- [00:23:52.70] But I hope I'm not taking up too much time. Shall we talk about the next subject?
- [00:23:58.35] SPEAKER 1: Please describe the popular music during your adult years.
- [00:24:03.97] DAVID GRIFFIS: And we touched on that yesterday a bit. Personally, I'm a jazz fan.
- [00:24:11.08] SPEAKER 1: But [INAUDIBLE] like right now.
- [00:24:13.12] DAVID GRIFFIS: Right now?
- [00:24:13.77] SPEAKER 1: Yes, right now.
- [00:24:18.62] DAVID GRIFFIS: Well, I guess hip hop and rap are the music of today. I don't understand a lot of it. I find that if I listen very carefully, I can get into some of the messages that are being shared. But I still remain a jazz fan. And as you know, jazz is still a prevalent form of music. And I do jazz concerts and jazz weekend events.
- [00:25:00.57] In New York State, there is a jazz weekend fest called the Saratoga Jazz Festival. I've been going up there. It's a two, three day event. I've been going up there for a few years now. And also outside of Washington, DC they have something similar. They do them all over the country now.
- [00:25:21.05] And then there are the-- from jazz, they kind of expanded it so they capture some of today's generation. And they call it the Music Fest now, which is what our jazz fest here has come to be, I think, because whereas it originally was straight-ahead jazz, I think it encompasses several forms of jazz. I don't think they've really gotten into bringing in hip hop or rap artists just yet, but some of the fests do. I think maybe the-- I don't know if the Art, Eats, and Beats necessarily does it yet, but I think they're moving in that direction.
- [00:26:14.33] And, anyway, that's my impression of what's going on today.
- [00:26:21.49] SPEAKER 1: What were the popular clothing or hairstyles during this time?
- [00:26:26.33] DAVID GRIFFIS: We talked about in my youth, but--
- [00:26:29.54] SPEAKER 1: Right now.
- [00:26:29.90] DAVID GRIFFIS: Right now. I think younger people are dressing a lot more casually than they have in the past, which is fine. I think every generation looks at a younger generation and say, my, my, what are they doing. But I'm sure my parents looked at us and said the very same thing. I told you guys about the high crown hats yesterday. I'm sure they thought that was a ridiculous sight.
- [00:27:06.92] Everybody talks about guys wearing pants that might seem a step away from falling to the ground. Well, that's--
- [00:27:17.76] SPEAKER 1: Pants on the ground?
- [00:27:18.64] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yeah. Right. It seems to be very uncomfortable. I was watching a guy in front of me, walking down the street yesterday, and he kept inching them up, pulling them up. And to do that at all day, it's got to be something that you could grow into. I think it would be a little uncomfortable, personally.
- [00:27:42.93] You see less dress shirts and ties, even in work environments. When I was working in a corporate environment, a tie and generally a white shirt were a must. And the shirts were starched. And that was one of the other reasons I was so happy to get away from the corporate world was because my neck would become reddened and sore from wearing these starched dress shirts. And folks have gotten away from that now, and I think that's a good thing, really, in terms of today's attire.
- [00:28:19.28] I think people are much more comfortably dressed nowadays. I'm [AUDIO OUT] the right track anyway.
- [00:28:30.71] SPEAKER 1: Were there any words, slangs, or phrases that you really wouldn't hear today?
- [00:28:37.23] DAVID GRIFFIS: Are there any I really want to hear?
- [00:28:40.38] SPEAKER 1: That you haven't heard for a while.
- [00:28:46.02] DAVID GRIFFIS: That's something I can't answer right off the top. I'll think about it, though, if something comes up.
- [00:28:54.03] SPEAKER 1: That concludes the section of questions of your working years. Now we got to part five, work retirement. This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, the time you entered the labor force, or started a family, up to present time.
- [00:29:13.56] Question number one-- what was your main field of employment?
- [00:29:19.60] DAVID GRIFFIS: I've been self-employed for all but about eight, nine years of my working, my time working. And that I had a couple of degrees in business administration. I worked in, let's say, business offices when I was with Chrysler and for the State of Michigan.
- [00:29:51.69] And then my business experience lent itself to running several businesses after that. And self-employment, from my point of view, involved running the businesses. So I was responsible for the human resource matters, all financial matters, [AUDIO OUT] negotiating union contracts, disciplining employees, reviewing and changing perks.
- [00:30:35.74] And I think that the managing of people, the human resources aspect, probably was the more demanding of it because we had maybe 120 or so patients, and it required, oh, say 150 employees and consultants in order to deliver the service. So I had to become rather adept at managing the human resource that isn't dealing with people and getting them to do what you want them to do in order for the business to succeed. So generally, from a business perspective, that was what I did most of the time.
- [00:31:25.66] SPEAKER 1: Do you have any photos or any photo albums?
- [00:31:28.30] DAVID GRIFFIS: I have a few, yes.
- [00:31:29.68] SPEAKER 1: Would you show them?
- [00:31:31.18] DAVID GRIFFIS: Sure. I guess I'll start with the earliest picture that I brought of myself. I guess I must have been about five or six years old at the time. And I'm not sure where it was taken, but we were talking about the difference in attire and dress. Even as a kid, my parents dressed me in a shirt and tie to take a photograph, as you see. You got that one?
- [00:32:14.56] SPEAKER 1: Nice photo right there.
- [00:32:16.20] DAVID GRIFFIS: Thank you.
- [00:32:16.59] SPEAKER 1: You were wearing a tie.
- [00:32:17.79] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yeah. Right. I have another one here wearing a tie. I'm going to skip around a bit.
- [00:32:25.32] SPEAKER 1: It's OK. You can show all of them.
- [00:32:27.17] DAVID GRIFFIS: OK.
- [00:32:28.61] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
- [00:32:31.92] I've got one here of my family. My two daughters, the oldest one, Gail, in the center. And my youngest daughter to the left of the photo. The two young guys are my grandsons who are living here. This young man is my oldest grandson who lives in Florida, in the Fort Myers area with his mother, as I explained earlier. And the other guy here is my son-in-law. This was taken about-- it's been seven, eight years ago, looking at the age of my grandsons.
- [00:33:20.37] SPEAKER 1: Nice family.
- [00:33:21.77] DAVID GRIFFIS: Family, right. Exactly. Here's another family photo. This is four generations. My mother on the left and myself on the right, my daughter in the center, shortly after she had had my first biological grandson. This would date back to '90-- I'm sorry. '87, I think. About 1987-88.
- [00:34:06.98] SPEAKER 1: That's really good.
- [00:34:11.71] DAVID GRIFFIS: About the working years you were asking, this is a photo someone took. I've forgotten what the occasion was, but it was in an office I used to have, and I think at the time when I was doing business with the Detroit public school system. And I've forgotten who took it, but anyway, it was working years and people all dressed like that, of course, then.
- [00:34:40.39] SPEAKER 1: That was you?
- [00:34:41.62] DAVID GRIFFIS: Right. That was me. This is one that was a celebration of my 50th birthday. It was taken on a-- there was a surprise trip by train to Toronto, and they managed to get me-- I knew something was up. I didn't know what it was. But they managed to get me over to Windsor, and we boarded this car of the train. And there were about 50 of my friends who had managed to get the time to celebrate my 50th birthday in Toronto.
- [00:35:26.80] Another picture of myself and my mother and my daughter, taken-- I don't know, maybe 10, 12 years ago.
- [00:35:39.54] SPEAKER 1: Did you guys like to wear big glasses back then?
- [00:35:42.35] DAVID GRIFFIS: Glasses were, yes. Yes. I have several photos with those large glasses on. And then they, as you know, they went away, and now they're back again, I think. Aren't they? Aren't large-framed glasses coming back in? Yeah.
- [00:35:57.29] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:35:59.61] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yeah. I haven't gotten back into them, but we did then. This is a photo-- I'll have to get my-- I don't know if-- my ex-wife is remarried, so I didn't consult with her about using this photo. But I'll have to get back with you if you're going to use it. This is a photo of us and my youngest daughter, getting on a cruise back in the '80s sometime. I've forgotten where we were going. Maybe Jamaica someplace.
- [00:36:33.85] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:36:34.74] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yep. And I also bought a photo of my dad, since I had my mother on a couple of them. He died 15 years ago in 1995. I have much better photos of him, but this is one. I did this in a hurry last night. I'm in the process of packing to move, and I didn't really get a chance to go through as well as I wanted to. While I have a chance to-- can you use these, or shall I try to get some others? Will I have a chance to get some more?
- [00:37:05.62] SPEAKER 1: We can use them.
- [00:37:06.55] DAVID GRIFFIS: OK. Should I try to get some more to you, you think?
- [00:37:10.12] SPEAKER 2: Mm-hmm.
- [00:37:10.87] DAVID GRIFFIS: OK. OK. Will do.
- [00:37:12.53] SPEAKER 1: You could [INAUDIBLE] scan and stuff like that.
- [00:37:16.90] DAVID GRIFFIS: When are you going to do that, by the way? Do you know yet?
- [00:37:20.14] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE] something like that.
- [00:37:22.51] DAVID GRIFFIS: You don't know what day or anything?
- [00:37:24.57] SPEAKER 1: It will probably be [INAUDIBLE].
- [00:37:25.78] DAVID GRIFFIS: OK.
- [00:37:28.41] SPEAKER 1: Going back to your adult life, what was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
- [00:37:39.73] DAVID GRIFFIS: I've forgotten. You're asking me something I used to like to do. I used to like to run, too. I never ran a marathon, but I ran 10k's. And I used to jog a lot. At the time, I lived on Oak Drive and then on Fairway Drive, was near Palmer Park. And many mornings year-round, I would get up and jog around Palmer Park, which was about a three-mile run. And so, often I would start my day doing that, very early in the morning, at daybreak, just at daybreak many times. And I would often start my day with a run, and get back and clean up, get a little something to eat, and head down to work at one of the offices.
- [00:38:34.59] I found myself usually working much longer than eight hours, and on Saturday and Sunday, often, as the work demanded. Because when you-- I have to tell you, when you're in business for yourself, you have to be responsible for everything. You've got to stay on top of everything.
- [00:38:57.44] So the days were often long, but it wasn't the same as if I were working for Chrysler because I was doing it for myself and my family. So it was no big thing. I'd get home in the evening and spend some time with the family, with my daughters in particular. And often I would break up that day with maybe-- because they were involved in activities I would often pick them up or take them to some of these after-school activities. And then, although I didn't go all way back to the office, I would bring work home with me. But work was a large part of it.
- [00:39:51.69] Then on weekends I was relaxing, and there was always a trip to look forward to. It was not without--
- [00:40:02.89] SPEAKER 1: A good time. [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:40:04.82] DAVID GRIFFIS: Oh, I'm sorry. But that was a typical day, I guess. We used to eat out a lot. Often it involved-- there were a lot more restaurants around Detroit than there are now, and it involved going out, especially after my daughters started college and they weren't home.
- [00:40:32.87] SPEAKER 1: Because--
- [00:40:33.34] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry. [LAUGHS]
- [00:40:39.14] SPEAKER 1: What technology changes occurred during your working years?
- [00:40:46.56] DAVID GRIFFIS: Wow. It's just exploded. We went from keeping books and records manually to-- and that meant writing down almost every transaction, writing all checks by hand. I remember when there was a system developed which would allow you to write checks, and by using some kind of special paper you could get an impression on a spreadsheet under the check, which really seemed like an advancement in terms of bookkeeping because it kept a second record for you, and then you could just summarize those records.
- [00:41:36.79] To the introduction of the computer, or our first use of the computer for business purposes in the early '80s, when we're able to do word processing, to bookkeeping, and even basic accounting via the software available for use on the computer. And I think the internet and its-- it gives you immediate access to unimaginable amounts of information. I think that's a really big one for me.
- [00:42:22.97] I was reading just yesterday that people your age, probably-- born since '92 or something-- think that email is slow. And I can't imagine what they're talking about. After this is over, I'll have to ask you what that means about email being a slow form of communication. You think that's something you can help me with hopefully? Anyway--
- [00:42:50.99] SPEAKER 1: It's changed. It's changed.
- [00:42:53.85] DAVID GRIFFIS: Really? OK. All right.
- [00:42:55.53] SPEAKER 1: I know to you guys it's like-- it's not slow to us.
- [00:42:59.40] DAVID GRIFFIS: Right.
- [00:43:00.29] SPEAKER 1: It's a lot faster. Media has changed. Technology has changed.
- [00:43:05.84] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yes. Newspapers, for example. So many people don't read newspapers. I still buy papers every day. I don't read the paper as thoroughly as I used to because I get so much information online. I have a friend who gets up at 4:00 in the morning. He's just a natural early riser. And one of the first things he does is to go online and check out the news. And then he will forward to me all sorts of articles regarding news events locally, nationally. He's from the East Coast, and news regarding New York City. And sports, what's going on in sports. So even before I pick up the paper, I've got all of that available to me. It's been a real change.
- [00:44:02.32] My grandfather, my father's father, he was a gadget person. He was the guy I told you about yesterday who would repair cars or do whatever, and who felt that anything, any mechanical thing at the time, was something that he could understand and repair. And he often did because these things were made by men. And if one was mechanically inclined, he could figure out how it worked. He would have been absolutely floored by the advancement of technologies.
- [00:44:38.62] And I also mentioned to you how we used to do radio when I was young. It was way before TV at a certain point, of course. And to move from getting home entertainment via television was a big step, too. But I can remember Sunday evenings, which were really a good time to be into radio, when there were broadcasts that-- see if I can remember one of them. They did theater productions on one. I think they called it Lux Presents Hollywood or something. And they would do theater kind of things, theatrical kind of things.
- [00:45:27.89] SPEAKER 1: How do you feel about your current living situation?
- [00:45:33.81] DAVID GRIFFIS: I am, at 76, pleased to be able to do the things I do. I do most anything that I want to. I have friends who have suffered all kinds of issues over the years, and fortunately I've been free of most of them. I feel that I'm able to live a lifestyle that I am very comfortable with, and I feel pretty good about my circumstances right now. And that's something that people your age, I guess, have to really work hard on, and that is planning for-- you're not near it now, so it's not of concern to you, but one of these days you're going to--
- [00:46:23.94] SPEAKER 1: I can learn from it.
- [00:46:25.41] DAVID GRIFFIS: I'm sorry?
- [00:46:25.83] SPEAKER 1: I can learn right now.
- [00:46:26.86] DAVID GRIFFIS: Yeah. One of these days, you're going to be approaching the end of your working time, and you have to really plan for that. And so many of the corporations, if you wind up in a corporate situation, do not have the same kind of benefits that were available for people who were working during my time. Pensions, for example. They're trying their very best to do away with the kind of pension benefits that people at, say, DPS enjoy now, or any of the automobile manufacturers enjoy. So the sooner you can get involved in planning your financial future, the better. You'd be surprised how money grows if you just sock a little bit away at a time. So get involved, and understand the stock market, and financing, banking, and so forth.
- [00:47:29.76] SPEAKER 1: Now this set of questions covers your retirement years to the present time. What is a typical day in your life currently?
- [00:47:46.77] DAVID GRIFFIS: Well, last few weeks I've been an early riser, which is good. It gives me a chance to accomplish more. And I am doing a session with a physical therapist now. I have low back problems and [AUDIO OUT] to stretch and teach me exercises which will help alleviate those problems.
- [00:48:12.53] But I have joined, in the past years, numerous health clubs. And I haven't been in one in the last year. And I see it's very important that I do get back into a health club so I can do the things I need to be doing to help me physically, three or four days a week. And so I'll be getting back into that.
- [00:48:36.00] But in the last few weeks, I've been getting up, and it's been the physical therapy. And this week, of course, it's been coming here. Groups of friends, different friends, will meet for breakfast on a fairly regular basis, once, twice a week. As a matter of fact, we do what we call the OG's Lunch. You know what an OG is, right? You probably think in terms of Original Gangster. It's Old Guy, too. So we do a lunch at the DIA right across the street every Thursday. There's about a half a dozen guys. It'll grow into a larger gathering, depending on who's in town.
- [00:49:24.33] That, and very often I'm called upon to be with my grandsons, picking them up or taking them to various activities. They participate in golfing activities. And one is even playing lacrosse this summer, and soccer, and baseball, all kinds of things. So it's usually something of that occurring two or three times a week.
- [00:50:00.93] I find myself not having lunch as often as I used to. But I usually eat a fairly early dinner nowadays. But all sorts of activities. If there are sporting events that I might have a chance to attend, I do a great deal of that. Typical day is me doing whatever I want to do, basically.
- [00:50:27.81] I still do some work. I manage some real estate property, and I do some real estate renovation work, something I've been doing for many, many years. I'm very familiar with it, and it's easy for me to do, and I continue to do that. And it's usually something involved in repairs, or collections, or issues. So I do many things to stay busy and active as I can.
- [00:51:05.64] SPEAKER 1: [AUDIO OUT] your kids left home up to present, what important social or historical events were taking place, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:51:20.67] DAVID GRIFFIS: I think the most important event kind of across the spectrum you just mentioned was the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. I think, for most people my age, we never imagined this would have ever happened. But it has, and that is probably the most important event that would encompass us all.
- [00:51:56.19] I think some of the more important times in my life have been marriages and the births of my children and grandchildren. Those were just stand out events for me. The loss of my parents have been standout occasions on the flip side, on a negative, of course. But it's a part of life as we know it, so it's something we have to accept.
- [00:52:40.27] I think, as I look around the city, the city is such a different place than what it was when I was growing up. And since I'll have a chance to bring some more photos, I've got some photos that I will bring when we get together next. But the transformation of downtown Detroit, of Woodward Avenue, of even this area, Wayne University-- I noticed that at Warren and Woodward, the southwest corner is being demolished now. Those properties been there probably 60, 70 years.
- [00:53:24.13] At the southwest corner is being demolished. Now, at the northwest corner was demolished four or five years ago. And where the Welcome Center is now for Wayne University, that was a drug store and a restaurant and bar and whatnot for decades and decades.
- [00:53:44.59] And just through the campus at Wayne University, to see the transformation from a campus when I first enrolled there in 1952, when so much of the university activities, classes, and whatnot were conducted in converted residential buildings along Warren Avenue and Second and Third Avenue. There were a lot of two-story, four-unit buildings which were converted to classrooms. I can remember many a class I had in those old residential structures.
- [00:54:30.65] The newer buildings at the time still remain. The Science Center building at the northwest corner of Cass and Warren was there when I attended. And there was another building-- Stall Hall Building, just north of that along Cass-- they were the new buildings at the time. And they're still there and still functioning for classroom purposes. The Old Main, of course, has been there-- I don't know-- 100 years, maybe. It was there when the place was called City College, which I didn't know about, but I knew people who had attended there.
- [00:55:13.77] The gradual change of the city in all its areas has been really an interesting place. And then some of them remain essentially the same. Eastern Market, for example, has been there forever, although there's work or renovation work being done now. It keeps a lot of that old character about it.
- [00:55:41.19] SPEAKER 1: What advice would you give my generation?
- [00:55:44.64] DAVID GRIFFIS: I think I've started on it already when I was talking with you a minute ago about planning for your future and starting to do it early. I think that it is critical that you do that. I think it's also critical that you continue to further your education. And I'm sure people tell you this every day, but it is important because America, as I see it, is becoming a nation of haves and have nots. There's not going to be a significant middle class as it was, as it has historically been. Those positions are being done away with, and maybe even necessarily so, because if America is to assume or continue to have a major role on a global basis, we have to be able to compete with the Chinas and the Indias and whatnot, who have, as you know, a cheap labor force. Which means that they don't have that substantial middle class of people that enable so many Americans to realize a higher standard of living than had occurred anywhere on the planet, or even in America prior to, say, the '40s, when the war years began to produce the large middle class which we knew through the '90s.
- [00:57:29.40] But I think that, as African-Americans, we must own more of what goes on around us. We must not allow so many dollars to leave our community. If you look around now, so many of the small businesses are not owned and operated by African-Americans. In order for us to thrive, we have got to manage to keep those [INAUDIBLE] not only the businesses but most things around us. We've got to get involved and do that. Being strictly consumers in America is not going to further our position in America. We've got to do more to control our environment, I think.
- [00:58:23.71] SPEAKER 1: Be the product?
- [00:58:25.05] DAVID GRIFFIS: I'm sorry?
- [00:58:25.55] SPEAKER 1: Be the product?
- [00:58:26.67] DAVID GRIFFIS: Be the product? Be the product?
- [00:58:29.25] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
- [00:58:32.79] DAVID GRIFFIS: I'm not sure what you're asking.
- [00:58:34.68] SPEAKER 1: You want us to be more than just consumers, to be the people--
- [00:58:37.26] DAVID GRIFFIS: Oh, yes. Yeah. To produce. Yes, exactly. Yeah. To produce, to own, to control. If we took a walk up Woodward Avenue a half-mile and south on Woodward, we'd find that I bet you less than 10% of the businesses that exist, the small businesses, are owned by people of color. And it's changing now, but 10 years ago, this area was probably 90% African-American, and for us to have such little ownership in the opportunities around us is not a good thing long-term.
- [00:59:27.33] But you're right. I think we have got to produce. And produce doesn't have to be manufacturing. It can be service. It can be many things. It can take many forms. You're absolutely right. Yep. We need to be producers. Produce movie events, or TV events, yeah. Books. Yeah. Many, many things.
- [00:59:49.56] SPEAKER 1: Sports.
- [00:59:50.73] DAVID GRIFFIS: Absolutely. There's a chance that we may have one of our own involved in the Detroit Pistons, as you know. I think Magic Johnson has indicated an interest in owning at least a minority interest in the Pistons since they're for sale now. And I hope that happens. I hope that Joe Dumars also has a chance to acquire an interest. I think that he is the only remaining.
- [01:00:21.95] SPEAKER 1: That was the last section of questions.
- [01:00:23.87] DAVID GRIFFIS: Oh, OK.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Ziggy Johnson's School of Theatre
Wayne State University - Alumni
Michigan Employment Security Commission (MESC)
Detroit Public Schools
Black American Businesses
Black American Veterans
Joseph 'Ziggy' Johnson
E Grand Ave Detroit
Harper Ave Detroit
Palmer Park Detroit