“These employees would have made the journey to our new home with us and we wanted to do something special for these team members,” according to Bill Turner, director of assembly operations for Whirlpool Cleveland. “Each individual has their own plaque that will forever be a part of the Cleveland site.”
Turner’s words came in front of a subdued group of about 40 workers, many of whom were friends and close co-workers with the deceased.
Described as an Employee Remembrance Area, the respectful memorial is located near the flagpole at the entrance of the cavernous plant. It includes the stone memorial whose inscription reads, “In Remembrance of Our Fellow Team Members. Thank You for Your Hard Work, Dedication and Service to Whirlpool & The Cleveland Site. Your Contributions Will Always Be Remembered.”
Flanking the memorial are smaller stones with individual plaques bearing the names of the employees. The plaques were designed and manufactured in-house in the plant’s Tool & Die Shop. The stones were provided through Mitchell Crisp and Crisp Memorials.
Along a concrete walkway leading to the plant’s entrance are commemorative stone benches honoring the history of the companies dating back to 1879 that preceded the Whirlpool name which came to Cleveland in March 2006 with the acquisition of the former Maytag Corporation. The benches also pay tribute to thousands of retirees because the workers and the collection of companies serve as a foundation to the new LEED-Certified plant on Benton Pike.
One bench is dedicated to U.S. veterans — many of whom have worked for Whirlpool and its predecessors — whose sacrifices have kept America a free land, thereby securing opportunity for industries to grow and become integral parts of their communities, Turner explained.
Monday’s solemn dedication was held outdoors at the memorial at the close of the day’s first shift.
The manufacturing leader pointed to the origin of the memorial.
“After the passing of one of our employees, a fellow employee came to me and asked if we could do something at the new plant as a token of appreciation to remember our friends and employees who pass away,” Turner explained.
The employee’s death had been reported in the company newsletter — What’s Cookin’ — however, the associate who approached Turner “... wondered if we could do something to further honor our co-workers,” he said.
“It was a great idea and one that we wanted to pursue,” Turner cited. “We put together a team to come up with an idea to honor our employees and the history of our facility. The finished product of that team is what we see here today.”
Memorial honorees, all of whom were active Whirlpool employees at the time of their death, are Tina Smith-Cobb, 14 years of service; C.L. Hamilton, 49 years; Tyler Westmoreland, two years; Bobby McGill, 40 years; Shannon Fowler, one year; Jimmy Kersey, 44 years; Tara Eller, six years; Kenneth Daily Jr., 14 years; Brian Harper, 23 years; Jeff Sherrill, 22 years; and Ron Lewis, 29 years.
During the dedication, Turner read aloud the list of names and paid tribute to their commitment to Whirlpool, and to their influence in maintaining the appliance manufacturing legacy that has become a major part of Cleveland and Bradley County history.
From Monday’s dedication going forward, the names of active Whirlpool Cleveland Division employees who pass away will be memorialized with a plaque as part of the Employee Remembrance Area.
Although the dedication focused on employees, it also recognized the history of the existing Whirlpool Cleveland Division site and the contributions of each individual company. Some of the names include Hardwick Stove Company, founded in 1879; Dixie Foundry, founded in 1916, and whose identity evolved over the decades to Dixie Products, Magic Chef Company and Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products. Maytag purchased Hardwick Stove in the early 1980s, and later bought Magic Chef in 1986. Whirlpool acquired Maytag 20 years later.
Turner pointed to many changes Whirlpool has made in the local manufacturing operation in the last six years while converting it into a premium cooking products facility. But of all the changes, none is as significant as the Labor Day 2010 announcement by Whirlpool that it would build a new plant in Cleveland just a few miles from the existing King Edward Avenue site, Turner said.
“This magnificent facility has provided us the ability to continue our rich heritage in Cleveland for many years to come,” he stressed.
“Over the years, we have gone from using wooden crates and sand to create molds to using robotics and computer-controlled processes to make cooking products,” Turner reminisced. “The Cleveland site has a lot to be proud of and we would like to thank the companies that believed in our workforce and continued to invest right here in Cleveland.”
He added, “In return, the people who have worked here over the years and made these changes happen have made today possible. The companies and people that have made Cleveland a great place to work will always be remembered and we are all grateful.”
Whirlpool team members who developed the remembrance concept, alongside Turner, were Carolyn Webb, Judy Riddle, Ed Curtis, Paul Miller, Darlene King, Christy Corbin, Chrissy George, Josephine Greene, Lorri Greene and Wesley Helton.