Facebook certainly has its detractors, but the social media website has proven an excellent took at bringing people together.
Penny Nichol certainly used it to do just that after watching an episode of the Dr. Oz show where the idea was to use memory as a way of stimulating the brain. So Nichol tried to remember the names and faces of those she worked with back at the McCormicks factory for over a decade.
It turns out, Nichol couldn’t remember too many people on her own.
“I was thinking it would be nice if we had a Facebook page where we could get everyone’s contact information,” Nichol said. “So I started with the first name I could remember, started looking through their friends list and sending out invites. That’s where I started the group.”
It was mid-December that Nichol — who worked in quality control at the factory — said she had her “Dr. Oz moment” and started work creating a Facebook page that could be used to reconnect the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who worked aft the plant over the years. Today, the McCormicks Veterans page has 87 members.
“I think it is a page to do some healing. To see how everyone is doing. To let people come together and have their say on what might happen to the plant,” said Nichol, who worked at the plant from 1986 until 1999. The McCormicks factory, which opened in 1914, was closed under the name Beta Brands in 2008.
Nichol, who moved to Maynooth, Ont., after leaving London is owner-operator of Highland Wilderness Tours. Being so far away from the Forest City is one reason Nichol said the Facebook page is so important — it gives former employees a way to reconnect.
To get started, Nichol reached out to the most social person she could remember, Bonnie Zimmer, who worked at the factory from 1985 to 2000. She had stayed in touch with many of her former co-workers and was only too happy to work with Nichol on the page.
"Penny contacted me first, found me on Facebook. So I accepted her. I have kept in contact with a lot of people over the years,” Zimmer said. “Right away I started telling people. I told my daughter, she had worked there too, and she had a lot of pictures that she posted.”
The page now has well over 150 pictures posted by the various members of McCormicks Veterans. Those pictures include images of the factory as a vibrant building full of smiling, and often very busy, workers.
Zimmer was let go from the factory in January 1999, but by March, she was working at Jones Packaging, literary right across the street. Jones Packaging would eventually move to a new building out near the London International Airport, but Zimmer remained with the company for 10 years before retiring two years ago.
“In the end, I was one of the lucky ones who got out before the doors closed,” Zimmer said. “It was just awful at the end, people told me how sad it was coming into work every day. But for me, letting me go was actually doing me a favour.”
That favour wasn’t extended just to Zimmer. In fact, her daughter Kelly McGee, who worked at Beta Brands (it was never McCormicks during her time) for nine years before being let go in 2004, views the situation the same way.
McGee said she appreciated not having to be around for the “horrible final days” of the company, being locked out of what used to be a “vibrant company to work for.” McGee, who worked in accounts payable, went on to start a home daycare business after leaving the company.
“I started there when I was 24, it was my first real job. It was such a fun place, we did all kinds of things outside of work, we would get together for parties, go to Palasad,” McGee said. “People care about the building, but it is losing the family, the friendship, which so many people have had happen at Ford or wherever. That is what really hurts.”
Nichol said the goal of the page is for everyone to remain positive, to focus on the good things, the relationships, and the experience in working at was once one of the city’s key employers.
“The place was immaculate, which is what makes it so upsetting to see it such a mess,” Nichol said. “People say get rid of it, it’s ugly, but that was my home in many ways. I want to see something done.”
Zimmer and McGee tried watching one of the YouTube videos that are circulating of the current state of the factory’s interior, but they had to shut it off after being overwhelmed by feelings of sadness.
“I am really sad to see the building like that. It is unbelievable how neglected and abused it has been in just six years, “McGee said. “I hope they can do something to fix it up and make use of it. Something, anything, even if they just keep the front of it somehow. It is a gorgeous building.”
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