It’s been 20 years since the last glass-blower, machinist or shipper passed the cinderblock security entrance at Muskogee’s old Corning Glass Works.
Rust frames rows of busted window panes. Weeds poke through railroad tracks where tons of Pyrex measuring cups, Coleman lantern globes, Mr. Coffee pitchers and Jim Beam bourbon bottles were sent out. Today, nothing billows from the two brick smoke stacks that tower over the plant’s empty shell.
But for one day next week, the plant will come alive with the voices of workers who used to make glassware for American kitchens, bars and campsites.
Former Corning employees will have their 20th annual reunion from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 8 at the plant, 1500 Summit St. They are to bring pot-luck foods.
“The main thing I’m going for is remembering,” said reunion organizer Odell Pamplin, who had worked at the plant for 36 years in shipping, receiving and inventory. “It was traumatic when the place closed.”
Corning Glass Works closed its Muskogee plant June 12, 1987, to consolidate services with its plant in Parkersburg, W.Va. The company blamed its closing on lost sales due to foreign competition. About 400 people worked at the plant when it closed after 39 years in Muskogee.
B.K Smith, 77, recalled coming to the plant in 1950 for 83 cents an hour and being laid off in 1987 at $15 an hour.
Pamplin, 73, said workers made all sorts of “wares” at the plant.
“Glass for Proctor-Silex blenders, Mr. Coffee coffee pots, lots of Coleman lantern globes.”
“We made millions and billions of those, of all sizes,” Smith said.
The hardest wares to produce were heat-resistant Pyrex dishes and bottles for Jim Beam bourbon.
“They were each handled individually,” said Pamplin’s brother, Wayne Pamplin, 70. “You had to have special gloves — Kel-knit gloves.”
The former workers recalled the camaraderie at the plant, which once hired as many as 700 people.
“Everyone was concerned about everyone,” said Melvin Bass, 74. “We were family.”
Sam Whitley, 72, said he met his wife through a long-distance relationship at Corning.
“We talked on the phone,” he said. “She worked in Corning, N.Y., was in customer service and she told me what orders had to be shipped out.”
The former workers said they had the best insurance policies around and received good retirement benefits.
Wayne Pamplin said that last day at Corning was “like high school graduation.”
“We knew we’d see people we’d never see again,” he said.
Since then, laid-off employees held reunions each year, usually at Sequoyah Bay State Park or Civitan Park. Ten years ago, workers held their reunion at the plant.
“It was mainly to meet with people, ask ‘How are you doing,’” Pamplin said.
Fewer people come to each reunion.
“Well over 100 have passed on,” said Whitley, who used to work in shipping.
“Every month, we read of another worker passing on,” Pamplin said. “I don’t know how many people will come to this one, 30 or 40 or 100 or 200.”
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This Week's Circulars
100, Retired from Nelson's Furniture, passed Monday, April 6, 2020 public viewing: 9-5:30, Friday, 4/10, 1-5PM on Sat 4/11 & Sun, 4/12 @ Cornerstone Funeral Home, Private family services planned Cornerstone Funeral Home, Muskogee, OK
79, Retired CNA at Wagoner Community Hospital. Died April 6, 2020. Public viewing is 10:00 am - 12:00 pm Monday, April 13, 2020 at Mallett Funeral Home and Crematory. Private family service.
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