Joyce Tarter didn’t exaggerate when she said working at Haldex Brake was like being around family — she often was.
Tarter and her husband, Jim, count eight relatives who worked at Haldex at one time or another since the brake manufacturer opened its doors in 1973.
Now she and Jim — both of whom have been at Haldex for more than three decades — are among the 160 employees at the Iola manufacturing facility who will be put out of work when the plant closes, most likely by the end of the year.
“I know I’m going to be emotional when the time finally comes and they close the doors,” Joyce said. “I’ll cry right now if I think too much about it.”
“I don’t imagine it’ll really hit me until I see the machinery loaded up on the trucks,” Jim added.
Much of the equipment from the Iola facility will be moved to a Haldex plant in Monterrey, Mexico.
In the meantime, Haldex crews are working overtime in order to build sufficient bridge inventory to provide for customers while the equipment is en route to Mexico and out of commission.
The company’s original plans were to have the inventory in place by mid-September.
She viewed the reprieve with mixed emotions.
“You know the time is still coming,” she said. “Part of you just wants
to get it over with, so you can move on with your life.”
Those feelings, however, are outweighed by Joyce’s sense of loss.
“Will Haldex be missed?” Jim asked.
“Oh, yes,” Joy replied. “Very much so. My being
at Haldex is the only thing my grandkids have ever known. It’s been such a fixture for us and for Iola.
You figure you have 160 people who worked here and shopped here and paid bills here — and sent their kids to school here. This is going to leave a big hole
in the community.”
The Tarters count themselves as the more fortunate of the soon-to-be displaced workers.
Joyce, 66, is old enough to retire. And Jim, 63, has “a couple of prospects” he’s considering. Their children are grown and living on their own. Their possessions, such as their house, are paid for.
“We’ve been preparing ourselves for retirement, making sure our bills are paid,” Jim said. “We’d been putting a little extra into our 401(k) whenever we could.”
“One thing that’s going to hurt is the (loss of) health insurance,” Joyce said, noting that Jim will pay about $400 monthly to continue his insurance plan; she is old enough to qualify for Medicare. “Haldex provided great benefits for its employees,” she said.
Joyce’s pre-closure announcement plans had been to retire next year, on her 67th birthday.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for retirement,” she said. “I thought about trying to do some volunteer work, something with kids. Maybe I’ll take some piano lessons like my mother always wanted me to do.”
Jim is certain of one thing. The couple will stay in the community.
They, and other Haldex employees, were given the option of relocating to other Haldex facilities across the country if openings were available.
“I’m not ready to retire, and I’m not wanting to move out of Iola,” Jim said.
JIM JOINED Haldex in 1974, when it was Berg Manufacturing. Joyce came on board three years later.
His 36-year tenure at the plant puts him fifth in terms of longevity.
“I’m probably in the top 15 or 20,” Joyce added. “But I’m the oldest employee there, although I don’t know how proud I’m supposed to be when I say that.”
It was at Haldex, coincidentally, that the couple originally met. Both had been working in the shipping and receiving departments.
“He was actually my supervisor for a while,” Joyce recalled. “Then he went solely into the receiving department while I went to shipping.”
Jim remembers Iola before Haldex, Gates Corporation and Russell Stover Candies were a part of its business community.
The only local industries when he graduated from Yates Center High School were Columbia Metal and the Tyson chicken plant in Iola, which closed shortly after.
Jim moved to Wichita — “the only place I could
think of going to find employment” — before serving three years in the military. He returned to Kansas shortly before the Berg plant opened in 1973.
“It was such a big step for the community,” Jim said. “It gave hope to the kids in high school that they would have a good chance for employment.”
Joyce, coincidentally, was working at the Tyson plant when Berg opened its doors.
Working at Tyson was an ordeal, she recalled.
“They were hurting for money so bad that there were times when employees wouldn’t get paychecks,” she said.
As fate would have it, Joyce was hired at Berg just days before Tyson officials announced the Iola plant’s closure.
RUMORS of the plant’s closure popped up in the late 1990s when the Berg facility was purchased by Sweden-based Haldex.
“I never really paid any mind to the rumors,” Jim said. “I figured if there was something we needed to know, they would tell us eventually.”
Still, there were ominous signs, first in 2007, when Haldex closed a plant in Paris, Tenn.
Jim was one of the Iola employees who went to Tennessee to help move one of the plant’s product lines to Iola.
“One of the equipment operators told us that this could very easily happen to us,” Jim said.
“Sure enough, we were next on the list.”
“Heck, it could happen to the people in Monterrey down the road, for that
matter,” Joyce added.