In March 1980, Karan Thacker was looking for a job. Her family was having a hard time making ends meet on her husband’s salary alone. At the time, the country was in the middle of an extended recession and there were few choices available for someone with only a high school diploma.
“I just needed a good job,” Karan said. “I was young and had a two- and a three-year old. We were struggling. We needed more income and health insurance.”
The best job prospects in southern Illinois were in coal mining. It was probably the one industry Karan never saw herself being a part of. She didn’t grow up in a coal mining family and she had no familiarity with the coal industry. She really didn’t know what to expect, but she thought she’d give it a try.
“They were hiring and all my friends were going to work in the mines,” Karan said. “I applied for a job and was hired as a general laborer on the third shift – the bottom of the barrel. But that’s how you learn. I had no training at all.”
Her first job was at Amax Coal Company’s Wabash Mine in Keensburg, Illinois.
Karan didn’t go into the job with any preconceived notions about what it would be like. “I knew it would be hard work and long hours,” she said. “But I liked it more than I thought. It was hard but not impossible.” Karan saw that by putting the time in as a general laborer, there were opportunities for advancement.
Karan learned quickly and began to work her way up through the ranks.
“While I worked underground, I learned how to run the equipment – shuttlecars, roof bolters, scoops and track haulage,” she said. “Then I received my mine examiner and mine foreman papers in Illinois. In 1985, I applied for and accepted a position in the communications center at Wabash, which was a salary position. I continued to work there until 1997 when they had a large workforce reduction.” Karan was part of that reduction.
Karan said it was actually a blessing in disguise because of the availability of funding provided by the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Those who lost jobs due to the rule’s passage were eligible for educational assistance. She took advantage of the program, which was administered by Indiana WorkOne – the state’s employment services program.
“They took care of applications for funds and distribution of funds which were provided by the federal government through a grant,” Karan said. “I had to apply each semester and provide documentation of all expenses and classes taken.” In May 2000, she received her degree in business administration with an accounting major.
“I loved my job at Wabash. I was devastated when I went through a layoff, but because of that I was able to go back and get a degree,” she said.