ARTICLE 18 : Face to Face With Some Former Workers of "THE SHOP"

Writer's Acknowledgments and Appreciation :

One cannot capture the Whitin Spirit simply by reading about former employees of the Whitin Machine Works. So, upon seeing and hearing each person tell about his job duties first-hand, this writer became fascinated by their work ethic, company loyalty, and wit. You can experience now, second-hand perhaps, the feeling of life in "THE SHOP" as you read along. Examine closely each portrait and profile. Listen carefully as each one tells his precious moments which will always be treasured. As their past becomes obscure with the passage of time, history and their tales will endure as the saga of the Whitin Legacy continues to unfold.

Since this writer began the saga of the Whitin Legacy and the Whitin Machine Works, he has found that very few experiences can compare to that of interviewing its mill workers. In the article that follows, a brief profile, a color portrait, and some actual comments from each shop worker are accessible in sound bites on your computer. I wish to gratefully acknowledge each of the following outstanding individuals who have contributed to the essence and spirit of this article.( And I especially thank them for their cooperation, candor, time, and patience with me!)----- Many thanks go out to : John Rauth, Edna LesPerance, Roland Beaudoin and the late Jack Ratcliffe, the late Eva O'Keefe, the late Russell Bailey, the late Edward B. Postma, and the late W.Charles Commons, Jr.,

 

Jack Ratcliffe

BORN: 1920
YEARS OF SERVICE: 29

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     Jack started at Whitin in 1937, just 2 weeks after his high school graduation. His first job was in the Drafting Room, and his first pay for 2 weeks worked there amounted to $30.80! He worked all over "THE SHOP" and later worked in the Engineering Department as a supervisor. He told his story during a film-making session in 1999 at the Whitin Center about the history of the Whitin Machine Works. And although hired for only 2 weeks, he stayed on for 29 years. During an initial session involving presentations by several workers in 1998, Jack detailed the involvement in athletics by the Whitins. Now, one can scarcely pick up a copy of the Whitin Spindle and not find a photo or news item about Jack. So involved was he in baseball, that he later became inducted into Northbridge High School's Hall of Fame after an illustrious career as a center-fielder in the former Blackstone Valley League and also for having served as a coach in "THE SHOP" -sponsored baseball leagues. A community-minded citizen still, he has filled many requests and continues to respond when asked. His presence at "Picnic in the Park" at the Whitin Center in 1999 added a great deal to making new residents aware of "THE SHOP" and of its group of reunited workers called the Whitin R.O.S.E. Deceased.

John A. Rauth

BORN : 1926
YEARS OF SERVICE: 37

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     This man, who came out of the Seabees in World War II, started his career with Whitin in 1947. At that time, the Whitin Machine Works as a company had employed around 6,000, which included operations in the Maine and No.Carolina mills. John worked his way up into Overseas Sales, and traveled for 36 years at Whitin, noting that Whitin markets eventually existed in the Near East, India, and later in Egypt. People at the time would ask about Worcester's location ("Is Worcester near Whitinsville?"). During the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, John saw first-hand the spinning frames made by Whitin in the bombed-out Saigon Textile Factory. Detailing the rise and fall of the Whitin Machine Works during a recent filming at the Whitin Center, John explained why the Whitin combers and the spinning frames were the best built machines in the industrialized world during the 1950's. Previous to this decade, Whitin started the move to diversify, and John gave a brilliant explanation in his presentation of the "History of The Shop". Sadly, he mentions that he was the last individual to leave "THE SHOP".

Eva O'Keefe

BORN: 1905
YEARS OF SERVICE: 36

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     She is the first grand elegant lady to be interviewed. Eva started her career in 1936. Having had 20 years of experience in the telephone industry previously, she was unknowing about the operations of a textile machine plant. However, she had quite a task in managing the communications within the main office of the Whitin Machine Works. She had many barriers to overcome, but the most difficult at that time was to manage and supervise a work force surrounded by men. Although communication at first was simple and inexpensive, Eva went from a "one-position" switchboard to a "two-position" switchboard, which eventually led her staff in the main office to average a call or announcement at an average of one each minute . On a busy day, she noted, her office would handle 600 calls!

     Eva knew many of Whitin's upper managers on a first name basis. She recalled some interesting memories about her immediate supervisor, Mr. Ralph E. Lincoln, giving insights about an event at work one day when she was called into his office.  Mentioning other members of the Whitin families, she praised the likes of Mr. E. Kent Swift and Mr. Sydney R. Mason and Mrs. Mason. When later asked by this writer about young people getting advice from her when seeking a career in manufacturing, she directly replied that one should "be loyal and honest and always tell the truth". The day of my visit with Eva shall always be a memorable one, because of her home's neat decor and her gracious hospitality. Deceased.

Edna L'Esperance

BORN: 1923
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 43

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     Not enough can be said about this worker who started her career as a young lady in the Engineering Department of "THE SHOP" on December 3, 1941. Hired as one of the first two women as a clerk, Eva earned $.32 an hour! We all know that just 4 days later Pearl Harbor became world-wide news. She continues to show the same true grit and determination that makes her admired by all. And now, almost 60 years later, she is honored for her miraculous reunion efforts which have resulted in five remarkable gatherings. The first one was in 1995, when about 30 former coworkers showed up to share their memories and experiences of bygone days. Now it has grown to include over 100 mill workers, both of the crafts and management, and it is gaining recognition in the entire Blackstone Valley as well as on the Internet. She takes full credit for the organization called the Whitin R.O.S.E.(Reunion Of Shop Employees). Edna is helping to pass down a great story of her early days in the Engineering Department working with Mr. R.K. Brown, her first boss, when she had to work on master lists of bills for materials. She left in 1985 and Mr. Peter Bedrosian took over as head of the Engineering Department. Her last days were spent working at A.T.F. Davidson.

Russell Bailey

BORN: 1918
YEARS OF SERVICE: 44

I checked my gait and set my eyes to gaze
Upon the village tenements that stood
Aligned with others of its kind; in praise
Of former days I'd trade for if I could

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     This talented shop worker started on the tool job just before World War II.  One of his most arduous tasks was to instruct women how to machine tools for war parts. And one of his most pleasant jobs he had as a lad, was with women during the days he was a golf caddie at the Whitinsville Golf Course. He got to know all of the Lasells and the "First Ladies", as he called them. Russell spoke at length of his days in the New Village section of Northbridge, as his opening poem reflects. He noticed a particular spirit of cooperation and understanding between all ethnic groups, and used this as a topic also to be found in another poem, one of more than 240 poetic works he has composed in his lifetime. A modest and unassuming man, this mill worker also dabbled at writing one-act plays (Reference: Article 13 : Some Creations and Collections of Mill Workers). During an initial gathering held in 1998 at the Whitin Center, Russell detailed his career at "THE SHOP". He held the complete attention of all when he mentioned and later read some of his poems that he compiled and later sold for the benefit of the Whitin Social Library. Also on hand were some original tools which he passed around for all to examine. This man also made his presence known at "Picnic in the Park" held at the Whitin Center where all newcomers would learn about the Whitin R.O.S.E. I salute this worker and dare to say that his work is not fully appreciated by all town residents. However, the more one reads Russell Bailey's poems, the stronger his spirit and that of the Whitin R.O.S.E. becomes. Deceased.

Edward B. Postma

BORN: 1905
YEARS OF SERVICE: 51

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     When one speaks of commitment, service, and seniority, these values apply to Mr. Edward B. Postma. I cannot envision the work conditions when he first appeared ready for work at "THE SHOP" in 1919. His father told him that he had to learn a trade. So, Ed started as a toolmaker's helper and worked his way up to Forman in the Tool Maintenance Department of the Whitin Machine Works. He told a marvelous story about his employment at the first seminar of the Whitin R.O.S.E. He mentioned that E.Kent Swift, in making his rounds each Friday throughout "THE SHOP", would greet him and call him by his Dutch name, "Ynte". Ed went on to explain how tools were designed, labeled, and categorized for storage so that Whitin quality could be maintained. He related how retooling was essential during World War II and told how later on the Whitins devised a system to insure that tools or their ideas would not be stolen or copied. Ongoing education and training was vital, even if it meant traveling to So. Carolina to have classes. This particular worker remained dedicated to vocational education, and in addition to his rather lengthy career with "THE SHOP", Ed has been an active member and Town Representative on the Board of the Blackstone Valley Regional Vocation High School since 1963. One certainly has to admire him for not only his longevity but for his warmth. Ed's patience also is in keeping with his wisdom. Of all the workers of "THE SHOP" that this writer has interviewed, this man has taught me the most. Deceased.

W. Charles Commons, Jr.

BORN: 1913
YEARS OF SERVICE: 29

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     This man started working in "THE SHOP" in 1938. First it was in the Cost Department, then in Time-keeping, next was Engineering , and finally the Highway Department. His career was twice interrupted by World War II and the Shop Strike of 1946. Then he left briefly and served in the Air National Guard, later on retiring as Colonel. But in his career with Whitin, W. Charles mentions the nature and character of several of his coworkers: the late Fire Chief, Phillip B. Walker; Whitinsville Water Company Commissioner and Engineer, Delwyn K. Barnes; Assistant Fire Chief and Engineer, Leonard Brock; and a Design Engineer of the highest caliber, H. Cedrick Andrews. At times struggling with his memory, W. Charles exuded pride and contentment at having served both his company and community well for almost 30 years. Although not in the best of health at the time of this interview, W. Charles insisted on telling his story, and his narration lasts almost one hour. Deceased.

Roland W. Beaudoin

BORN: 1935
YEARS OF SERVICE: 18

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     Although Roland is the youngest of all shop workers to be interviewed, and has the least years worked in "THE SHOP", he gave amazing details and a great history of his employer, namely the Whitin Machine Works Credit Union. He started his employment in 1956. First, he worked as a time keeper on the second shift, and next as a planner before he settled into the Payroll Department. Bill Hall and Dick Sansoucy were his bosses then. But opportunity presented itself after he worked in General Accounting under Wayne Stinson and Jim Graham. He worked for Howard Cook awhile when he was an accountant. Then, just 14 years later, upon hearing of the retirement of Mr. Ernest Hartshorn, the Treasurer-Manager of the W.M.W. Credit Union for over 36 years, Roland applied for the open position as new Treasurer-Manager, and was hired. He admits that many, including Bob Wood and Henry Crawford, were immeasurably helpful in his managerial position. He also said the Whitin Machine Works and its credit union gave him the background, experience, and knowledge to deal with financial situations and family investments. He also credits the Whitin Machine Works for giving him the "know-how" to deal with people in the community. Roland has many sentiments to share about living in the Town of Northbridge. His position at this time is Branch Manager of the Whitinsville Office of the Webster First Federal Credit Union. Roland now works part time at Foxy Travel in Linwood.

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