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From Polio to Prize-Winner as Secretary : Secretary Has Come Long Way From Polio to Prize

May 02, 1985|RHONDA GIVENS | Times Staff Writer

GLENDORA — When she was 8 years old, Wilhelmina Geurin contracted polio and was paralyzed from the neck down. Now, at 43, she types 137 words a minute and has been named "the Most Intelligent Secretary in California."

Geurin was selected over 370 other secretaries who participated in the first such open competition sponsored by Remedy Temporary Services and held during April at the employment agency's 24 offices.

"I am so overwhelmed by all of this," Geurin said. "I never thought I could do something like this."

As a child living in Arkansas, Geurin said, she struggled through therapy to overcome her paralysis. Because part of her therapy--squeezing a rubber ball with her fingers--was boring, she turned to typing before she was 9, she said.

"One of my sisters was taking typing in school and had an old high-carriage Underwood typewriter," she said. "So I used her typing book and pecked at the keys."

Created Her Own Stories

At first Geurin copied sentences out of the typing book, she said, but as her fingers grew stronger she started writing stories on the typewriter.

"When I was paralyzed I wrote the stories in my head," she said. "When I was able to put them down on paper with a typewriter, I did."

Geurin wrote stories about her imaginary travels to space and tried to write the stories her grandmother, a Cherokee Indian, told her from Cherokee legends.

After she recovered from the paralyzing disease at age 11, Geurin said she still was afraid her legs would give out, so she did not play with her 12 brothers and sisters or her classmates at school. Instead, she kept up with her typing, and became a secretary after graduating from high school in Arkansas.

One Week in New Job

The Glendora resident and mother of four says she enjoys her work because secretaries are "the backbone of the business. No business can operate efficiently without them."

Geurin works at Aerojet ElectroSystems Co. in Azusa, which hired her a week before the competition. She had lost her previous job with a small company that went bankrupt.

In the competition, the secretaries took timed typing tests on electric machines and a hand-written comprehension test, which included current events questions, math problems, punctuation, capitalization, spelling and filing. Geurin typed 137 words per minute and scored 97% on the comprehension test.

Along with the title, Geurin received $1,000 in prize money--which she said she and her husband Arvy will use as a down payment on a car. "The one we have now is on its last legs," she said.

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