On cusp of closure, 81-year-old Silgan holds final reunion for retired employees

Steve Chapman

Silgan will be ceasing operations in Mt. Vernon on Oct. 4. (Photo by Steve Chapman)

Silgan Containers Corporation in Mt. Vernon held a reunion for the plant’s retired employees on Wednesday, Sept. 25. During the reunion, the retirees enjoyed a catered dinner, reminisced on old times, and toured the plant. The reunion was one last chance for them to see the plant before Silgan ceases operations there. The plant, which was owned by Carnation, and then later Nestle, before Silgan took over, was in operation in Mt. Vernon for 81 years.
Vince Gochenauer, plant manager, said the reunion was an opportunity to meet with people who’d worked there ahead of him.
“I wanted to have a little bit of fellowship for those who worked here previously, and to provide just a little bit of time for them to all be getting back together,” he said.
Many of the retirees said they had many wonderful memories of working at Silgan, mainly their camaraderie with their co-workers. Stewart Richardson, who worked at the plant for 25 years, said he and his co-workers formed a very close community there, which led to the Mt. Vernon plant being the company’s top performer.
“It was a very tight community here, and we were the No. 1 facility in Carnation Company,” he said. “And then it became Nestle, and then it became Silgan, (but) our status never changed. We were some of the best.”
Marie Short, whose late husband, Robert Short, worked at the plant for 38 years as an inspector, also described the workers and their families as “tight-knit.”
“They worked very hard; they played hard together,” she said. “They got together on the weekends, we all went canoeing as families, we had barbecues, we went to dances on New Year’s Eve.”
Short said the company also provided good-paying jobs and benefits, including complete medical and dental, for their workers, and even full-ride scholarships for the children of the employees.
“I was really grateful they were here, and I’m really sorry to see them leave,” she said. “It was union-oriented, they paid good wages, and that was great for the people that worked there and for Mt. Vernon.”
Cheryl Spain, who worked at the plant for 27 years, also said she was saddened Silgan is leaving.
“That makes me sad, because I think of all the relationships we had and the friendships we made,” she said, “and (there’s) not going to be a possibility for that. This place helped me raise my family; it was a good place to work.”
Much has changed at the plant, even in recent years. Many operations are now automated. Johnnie Lind, who worked at the plant for 30 years before retiring in 1994, said the place was very different from the time he’d worked there.
“The equipment has changed drastically, from running cans that had solder on the side seams to eliminating solder to automation and speed of welded cans,” he said. “(It’s an) entirely different operation than when I came to work. There is not a piece of equipment that is in this plant now that was here when I came to work.”
Gochenauer said the one thing that had remained the same at the plant was the high quality of employees who worked there.
“One thing that has stayed constant is the good quality of people, both skilled trades and other hourly (employees) that have kept this plant running for a long time,” he said.
The Silgan plant’s last day in operation will be Friday, Oct. 4.


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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