Magic Chef was formerly known as Dixie Foundry. Over the years Jerry Ward, Bill McClure and Wayne Creagan assisted with many changes at the company.
Ward was born and raised in Newton, Iowa, the town which made the Maytag name famous for its special cheese, from the world-famous Maytag Farms.
Newton was also the home base for Maytag Corporation. Maytag manufactured washing machines under the Maytag Washing Machine Co. name. It was founded in 1893 by Frederick Maytag.
Ward began his career at Maytag after working construction for awhile, then in a newspaper mailroom. In 1957, he enlisted in the Army and spent time at Fort Benning, Ga., only to return to Newton, his hometown, and go to work for Maytag as a work measurement analyst.
“Maytag had the most respected training program in the industry,” said Ward, who would work his way through the ranks and eventually come to hold a number of positions with Magic Chef ... but that was years down the road.
Ward said his entire family had worked at Maytag — his father, two sisters and five brothers.
In 1959, Ward left Maytag to join Philco Corp. in Fairfield, Iowa. He became involved in the planning of a new plant facility and then transferred to the corporation’s refrigerator facility in Connersville, Ind., and helped with an expansion to include a laundry product line.
After spending six years with Philco, he joined Fedders Corp. and added a refrigerator line at a new plant in Edison, N.J.
“It was a big change in management style,” Ward said. The company was family owned and some of those influences would follow him to Tennessee and a company named Magic Chef.
The Rymer family had established a company known as Dixie Foundry, and later Dixie Products.
S.B. “Skeet” Rymer Jr. was a people person, according to Ward and his two colleagues. Skeet Rymer headed the business which had been organized and headed by his father, S.B. Rymer Sr. Skeet’s son Hoyle would follow in his father’s footsteps as well, and vision also would be an important element of what is today the historic company now under the Whirlpool name.
In 1968, Ward made his way to Cleveland and sat down with Skeet Rymer.
“From the first interview, I knew this was where I wanted to work,” Ward said.
Ward liked the company philosophy and took a job as process engineer in the Industrial Engineering department. Within a year, Ward became an assistant plant engineer.
In 1972, Ward became the plant manager over the manufacturing process, then in 1980, vice president of manufacturing.
“After talking with Skeet and listening to his vision and plans, I was hooked,” Ward explained.
Magic Chef had acquired a microwave oven plant ... a new technology. The plant was in Anniston, Ala.
A merger in spring 1986 would bring many changes.
“When Maytag acquired Magic Chef in 1986, that brought Hardwick, Jenn-Air and Magic Chef under one umbrella,” Ward said.
Dixie-Narco, a vending machine company and other appliance-type industry, was also part of the Magic Chef family of appliances.
Ward oversaw operations for these companies under the diversified Magic Chef umbrella.
Skeet Rymer had retired and so had his son, Hoyle.
An old Newton colleague had also come back into Ward’s life. He met Wayne Creagan at the Newton plant. Creagan began his career with Maytag in 1948.
“I was right out of high school and the man who prepared my income taxes told me not to work too many places the next year ... I think I had 11 W-2 forms that year,” Creagan said.
“Joe Tucker, who worked at Maytag, got me an interview,” Creagan said.
At that time, Creagan lived in Centerville, Iowa, which was about 80 miles away. Creagan moved to Newton and went to Maytag as a senior factory clerk.
Ward quipped, “He started at the top and worked his way down!”
Ward and Creagan met in 1957.
Creagan became a junior industrial engineer and worked on labor standards, filing and time studies ... elements of improving production.
He looked for ways to improve production through “work simplification,” heading up programs and an “idea system.”
“I hung around so long, they had to do something with me,” Creagan said.
In 1950, Creagan was moved to Maytag’s Plant No. 2, a newer production facility. He was put in charge of Industrial Engineering.
Through the years, Creagan went to the same college as Ward had. Both men studied at Drake University as part of their continuing education.
Eventually, Creagan went into labor relations and then through several transitions, ending up at Magic Chef in 1988, after Hoyle Rymer retired.
That was two years after the 1986 acquisition which Maytag made.
Creagan was the president of Magic Chef, a division of Maytag, until 1991.
Creagan, Ward and McClure all agreed the work ethic of the men and women of Magic Chef was what led to the huge success of the company.
“They were already making good products,” Creagan explained. “There wasn’t much to do regarding any modification.”
Throughout his career, Creagan said there were years when nothing happened in the industries, then there were years when “everything changed.”
“I appreciated the fact of going from a small company, growing it to a huge company and being a part of that growth and direction,” Creagan said.
Creagan, Ward and McClure also agreed Whirlpool has “assumed an organization with a great history of performance achievement and a great workforce.”
McClure was fresh out of the military when he joined Magic Chef in 1965. Born and raised in Bradley County on his family’s dairy farm dating back to 1836, he said the hard and long farming hours helped him attain his work ethic.
McClure graduated from Bradley High School and then went to the University of Tennessee, where he was an agriculture major and studied economics.
After getting out of the Army and a tour in Vietnam, McClure returned home and began looking for a job.
“Luckily, Magic Chef was going to start a new management training program. After six months of training, I was assigned to steel manufacturing as a supervisor on second shift,” McClure said.
That was where McClure worked and came up with a program which helped with inventory control and organized production efforts.
In 1970, McClure took over supervision of the Cast Iron Foundry.
“The molders had been there for years. They were a clannish, very hard-working and dedicated group of workers,” McClure said.
In addition to the foundry, McClure was also given the responsibility of overseeing operations in the steel fabrication (press room) department. Shortly after, the Cast Iron Foundry ceased operations.
Through a series of moves, McClure eventually landed in the finishing department where enamel or paint was applied to steel range parts.
Then the added responsibility of assembly was placed on McClure’s shoulders.
In 1985, McClure took over the director of operations position and one of his last projects before his retirement was to develop ISO 9000, the international standardization program which among other achievements helped align employee responsibility regarding their jobs.
“I was skeptical at first about ISO 9000, but it allowed our people to see how their jobs aligned with other people on all sides of them. This allowed them to be able to write their own job description, enabling them to cut out a lot of confusion,” McClure explained.
After retiring in 1996, McClure continued to work with Ward and other former Magic Chef and Maytag employees.
They became a part of Execusource — a company established by Ward to consult other industries regarding a variety of projects or issues within the companies.
Reflecting on the production history of the company which began as a molding foundry, the new Whirlpool will be somewhat downsized in terms of acreage, McClure said, but will mostly be under one roof.
All three agree “people” relations is one of the keys to the company’s success.
Ward observed that Cleveland continues to grow.
Comparing Newton to Cleveland, he said Cleveland’s population is pushing 100,000 people. Newton’s population has not increased over the years and remains at 15,000.
They attributed the progress to the work ethic and industrial base. Magic Chef became the “industrial base of the forefathers of the American stove industry,” he said.
Ward, like Creagan, retired here in Cleveland.
“We wouldn’t change a thing,” they said.