In the Spotlight: LaVonne Anderson and Phyllis Isbell

We’ve all used them, and we’ve most likely taken them for granted. We’ve listened to their voice countless times, and tomorrow we’ll call, only this time knowing a little bit more about the voice on the other end.”Good afternoon. TCU. May I direct your call?” This is the question people hear every time they dial the Texas Christian University main phone line.

There are two women who work the switchboards at TCU: LaVonne Anderson, who has worked there for 25 years, and Phyllis Isbell, who has been there for a little more than three years.

Anderson said she loves her job.

“I can leave my work here and not take it home with me,” Anderson said. “The next day is new – not a single day is the same.”

With hundreds of calls a day and hundreds of extensions to dial it’s a good thing the work is split between two people.

“I love my job,” Isbell said. “I love to talk so I’m in the right place, I guess.”

During a 40-minute sitdown with the operators, the phone rang about three times a minute. Luckily for the two, these aren’t the same obnoxious phone rings heard on telethons; they’re more of a soft beep – almost as polite as the women answering the line.

On each desk sit three years of Frog Calls, a directory from Human Resources with all the faculty and staff, Fort Worth telephone books, sheets with the most commonly called extensions, hotel lists, florists, fraternity and sorority directories and a current copy of “TCU THIS WEEK,” so they are aware of new employees and events.

“I’m still learning. Once I look up a new one (number), the next time I dial it, I’ve got it,” Anderson said.

Because Anderson has been here longer, she has experienced the switchboard job all over campus.

When she arrived in 1982, the office was in the Pete Wright dormitory hall. Then it moved to the Rickel Academic Wing, back to Pete Wright, into the basement of the Brown-Lupton Student Center, the main floor of the Student Center and even to the Health Center. All of the moving typically happened because of renovations on campus, Anderson said.

Currently, Anderson and Isbell’s office window looks out to Kube’s Jewelry on Berry Street, behind the police station in the Secrest-Wible Building.

“We can watch police give tickets from this location,” Isbell said. “We laugh at that because it’s not us.”

Both Isbell and Anderson have previous experience in similar fields and started work right after graduating high school.

“I hadn’t actually been an operator before,” Isbell said. “I had to work on it. I love to talk, so that helped.”

Anderson had a daughter attending TCU when she applied for the job and said she appreciated the tuition break. Because of her previous 10 years experience with long distance phone companies, there was no need for an audition for the job.

Anderson said she loses her voice a lot, so they both keep something to drink nearby.

Isbell said that when school starts, a lot of students call in and ask for directions to their classes. This is why there is a huge map of the campus on the wall next to them. They actually help direct students to class.

“Once, this girl called in and wanted to talk to the place where they have those box things,” Isbell said. “I said, ‘You mean the post office?’ And that was what she meant, like we’re supposed to know what a box thing is.”

Luckily, the two have never received threats or harassing phone calls via telephone. Sometimes people call back and are upset if they reach a voicemail, Anderson said.