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David Sterle had been a mechanic, but the company decided it could get by with fewer mechanics. Under union rules he couldn't bid on other jobs, like janitor. So some workers -- including a few women -- who had fewer years at the mine were able to keep their jobs while he was out of work. Lynn says he couldn't help resenting that. "It was hard for him to be sent home, and see the women staying there, doing things he could have done," she says.
Iron Rangers are tough and proud. But the Sterles were forced to ask for help. They went to the county social services office.
"I'll never forget," she says. "We said all we wanted was fuel assistance and medical, but they said, 'No, you have to take it all or nothing.' The social worker told me, ‘If you were to divorce him, you could have it all.' We looked at each other, my husband grabbed the forms, ripped them up, and said, 'We're outta here.'"
After four years of low-paying work, David Sterle was hired at Hibtac, and Lynn finally got a job at Minntac in 1989.
Two years later, watching the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Lynn Sterle saw Anita Hill accuse Thomas of sexual harassment.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, a lot of women here have experienced the same thing, but nobody had the guts to just say it outright,'" she says.
Things have changed on the Iron Range. A few years ago, the local paper did a story about Lynn Sterle and her years in the mines. A big picture is on the front page: Lynn Sterle in her hard hat, safety glasses, and perfectly manicured nails.
Lynne Sterle retired in 2004. Last summer her daughter, Briana, worked at Hibtac as a fill-in. Of ten college students on the crew, eight were women. But that didn't surprise Briana. Neither does she express much gratitude toward her mother for paving the way.
"I wasn't very worried about getting treated weird, " she says. "I knew with the new laws, women aren't getting treated the way they were back then. "
It seems Lynn Sterle’s work in the mines may have paved the way for other women, but not for her own daughter. Like many young people on the Iron Range, the work of her great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and mother holds no interest for Briana. She wants to be a photographer and move away.
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