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Concern in the Cove: Generations of workers feel impact

ROARING SPRING — Thirty-three years ago, when Ruby Albright’s son-in-law, who was working a minimum wage job, learned he’d been hired by the paper mill here, there was jubilation.

“It was like he had hit the jackpot,” Albright, a customer in a hair salon along Route 36 in the borough, said this week.

In recent years, Albright has prayed that her son-in-law, now 57, would take that mill job into retirement, but on Monday, her prayers were answered in the negative with the announcement that the mill would close this spring after more than 150 years of operation.

“Now he needs to hunt another job,” Albright said.

She remembers the day the call came for her son-in-law.

“That was your lifetime job,” she said. “You had it made.”

The mill sustained families from generation to generation, according to people at the salon.

Thirty-five years in a job there enabled Becky Green Hazenstab’s father to raise her and five siblings and send them all to college, Hazenstab said.

The mill also provided her own kids jobs in the summer, she said.

“Your dad worked there, you worked there, your son would work there,” Albright said.

“It was a staple in the community,” said Becky Dick, the salon’s owner.

Thirty years at the mill in shipping, including 10 as a forklift operator loading trailers and boxcars, enabled a woman, who asked that her name not be used, to raise two children as a single mother.

When she started in 1978, there were few women there, she said.

It was hard, physical work.

They protected rolls of non-carbon paper in heavy cardboard, carboned paper in bubble wrap.

There were seven people on her crew, a number that dwindled as the years passed.

“It was not my dream job, but it got my kids educated and out the door,” she said. “It was a good job for a lot of people for a lot of years.”

Working there was best when the mill was locally owned, she said.

She recalled “big feeds” when everyone would bring things to eat.

She sees the closing now as “corporate greed.”

Many of the workers who will be losing their jobs are older, said Dan Negri, who was minding the Shoe Factory Outlet store in the borough.

“Where are they going to go?” Negri asked rhetorically.

The closure will be “devastating for the whole town,” Albright said.

People won’t go out to eat as often, she said.

There are lots of businesses that will lose patronage, because their families won’t be as well-off, according to others in the salon. And there are businesses that the mill patronized that will lose that commerce.

A major share of E.F. Smith trucking’s commerce is with the mill, according to Elaine Snively, part owner, who was in her firm’s office this week.

E.F. Smith runs two to five trucks per day for the mill, hauling rolls of paper, latex, oil and other materials between Roaring Spring and places that include York, Roanoke and Richmond.

The mill also stores materials in the company’s warehouses, Snively said.

Due to the dire announcement, she’ll be doing “a lot of praying,” she said. “We’ll go on faith and look for more work,” she said.

“We all know someone,” Dick said. “Family, friends, customers …”

There will be “a trickle-down effect,” Snively said.

Roaring Spring is liable to become “a ghost town,” she said.

“What takes its place?” Negri asked. “Another health center?”

Maybe another company can buy the plant, said the woman who didn’t want her name used.

A potential operator should consider using the plant to make whatever paper product there’s a market for, including toilet paper or paper towels, she said.

At a small parking lot above the mill where some employees keep their vehicles during their shift, about 20 workers leaving first trick Thursday declined to speak, although they were generally polite.

“Thank you for your concern,” one woman said.

“This is sad,” another said. “I have 26 years here. Sorry.”

The mill seems to have “always been,” Negri said. “It’s kind of like iconic,” he added.

“I grew up in Roaring Spring,” Snively said. “The smell of the paper mill smells like home to me.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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