by Cori Hilsgen
A medley of emotions – sadness, hope, disappointment and nostalgia – filled the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud Oct. 25 when former Verso employees gathered for an appreciation event.
Workers and guests were invited to an evening of appetizers, drinks and DJ entertainment in appreciation for their service to the Sartell Mill.
Conversations flowed as people discussed job options. Some talked of how they were adjusting to retirement. Many talked of other jobs they had taken and further schooling and training they were attending. Some spoke of the frustration they were feeling at not yet being able to find a job.
Some expressed disappointment representatives in state office weren’t following through on all of their promises to help displaced workers find better employment.
Speakers thanked the employees for their years of hard work at the mill.
Union president Lyle Fleck told those who attended to enjoy themselves and he and the rest of the union board had enjoyed representing workers.
Plant manager Matt Archambeau compared length of operation of the mill to General Motors Corp. He thanked employees for their years of service.
Nancy Koska, human resources manager, called out “green ticket” and drew numbers to give away prizes. Drawings included many souvenirs from the mill.
Attendees also received a parting gift of a wooden cutting board with the mill engraved on it, a Verso shirt and a water bottle.
Originally formed by a group of investors from Wisconsin with $200,000, each share costing $100, the Sartell mill was in operation for 106 years. It was called the Watab Pulp and Paper Co., St. Regis Paper Co., Champion International Corp., International Paper and finally Verso Paper Corp.
Many of those who attended had started at the mill in the pulp department, spearing logs, and they were assigned to an “on-call” basis where they were called to work any of seven days a week, at any time of the day. Many also worked a “southern swing shift,” rotating three eight-hour shifts before switching to two 12-hour shifts. Some had been a part of the 1982 start-up of the number-3 paper machine.
Old photos of days at the mill flashed on a screen as workers reminisced about past years and experiences. Many expressed appreciation to others for their good work ethic and the long hours they worked.
Even though many said they were saddened by the closing of the mill, they also said they felt fortunate to have been employed there for as long as they had been.
“It was a good ride,” said Sartell resident Dennis Molitor.
Molitor worked at the mill for 38 years.
T-shirts were sold and a silent auction was held in memory of Jon Maus of Albany, who was killed in the May 28 explosion and fire that also resulted in the closing of the mill. Many expressed their sadness for the loss of his life.
At the end of the night, as former workers left the convention center, all said they realized it would be the final Verso mill gathering.