By Bob Vrbanac, Kitchener Post staff
I started my life in the J.M. Schneiders plant when I was just 18 years old.
I was one of those fortunate kids to have a dad working at the Kitchener landmark, so while some of my other friends struggled to find good summer employment, I found a great way to pay for my university education.
It was hard work, don’t let me kid you. I didn’t dodge any of the tough assignments in the nine summers I spent in the Courtland Avenue facility that had been home to the Schneiders brand for decades.
Back in the day, Schneiders had parts of its operations that could turn even the strongest stomachs. I would go home at night and dream about being covered in hams as the pork cut line kept rolling.
It was an education in its own right, and I remember being so tired while working on the line that I wouldn’t even leave it to go on break. I needed all the energy I could spare just to keep up.
My dad would just smile as his buddies laughed, telling the student that he was getting a real world education at Schneiders.
Let’s just say that trudging up to the entrance and getting a whiff of what was waiting for me on the inside was all the inspiration I needed to keep my nose in the books and out of the student bars.
But I also learned about perseverance and pride from the people I worked with.
They never let you cut corners and insisted on doing a quality job. They had a reputation to preserve and passed it along to us.
The food they were processing and preparing for the public was something they were proud of and took ownership in. It was an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. The company they worked for was also well respected in the city for its community spirit.
So were a lot of the people who worked for it. Although you might not recognize the workers outside of the plant without their hairnets or hard hats, they were the coaches of our hockey and soccer teams.
They were the many volunteers and contributors to our community life. I remember bumping into a great guy I knew from the days in my plant years later, and wasn’t surprised to see that he had won the Waterloo Award for his community service.
And Schneiders was the springboard for that service, providing good wages and job security giving people a healthy middle-class lifestyle that allowed them to contribute to the character of this community.
The announcement that the plant will close by 2014 might not be a surprise to some, but it is still a big blow.
Schneiders will always represent to me what’s good about Kitchener and the best it offered to a lot of people in the community.