As Diane Papais Schoneveld stood with her children at their father’s Celebration of Life in January, she was amazed by the people who turned out.
“This really matters,” she found herself thinking. She and Mike Schoneveld had met while they worked in the manufacturing plant that was Volkswagen Canada and then, later, Alloyed Wheels International. They both worked in the machining set up department. Mike was a 13 year employee; Diane had 12 years. They punched in and out with their employee card. They were one big family.
“We’ve had a few people die over the years… Dave Blevins who started Urban Trends; Paul Williams who had a DJ Business… they were both on my shift,” says Diane. “A dozen guys from Mike’s shift came to his Celebration of Life. They talked about fun times at the plant and it gave me a warm, kind of fuzzy feeling. It was like a mini reunion!
“Volkswagen was really really good, a wonderful place to work. It became Alloyed Wheels and when the plant closed in 2001 over 500 people who worked three shifts were out of work.”
Over the years Diane had contact with a few people, as she started her business, Luv to Paint, months after getting her ‘pink slip.’ But the funeral for her former husband really kickstarted her motivation to bring back those happy days as VW employees…
And so, there’s a reunion for anyone who worked at VW or AWI from when the plant opened in 1983 to its closeure 18 years later. There’s a facebook page, (www.facebook.com/VWandAWIBarrie and people are mobilizing to find as many former employees as possible. So far, Diane has heard from 128 people.
Just posting messages, pictures, articles, and ideas about the reunion has multiplied the efforts and reunited people who lost touch 14 years ago. People are bringing all kinds of memorabilia to the reunion… employee tags, a VW wheel clock, old articles from the plants, pictures of baseball games.
The reunion is set for Saturday May 9 at 7 pm in the upstairs hall at the Barrie Legion on St Vincent St. Toronto chef Naresh Vyas is producing a buffet and Auto Haus is parking new volkswagens outside and has donated free T-shirts for the event. Cost for the evening is $15 to cover food etc and any leftover money is being donated to the food bank. Spouses are welcome.
People will be reconnected, will be able to celebrate what was a happy, remarkable past. Diane is optimistic that there will be former employees from shipping, die casting, catalytics, brake assembly, wheels, engineering and office staff like personnel, HR, administrative support, marketing.
Diane has already had commitments from 110 people and expects the number to reach at least 150. So many people from the plant closure have gone on to new jobs or to start their own businesses. Diane’s business began as mural painting, but it’s grown to include steady, loyal customers who need paint in just about every room in their homes.
As Diane looks back on her dozen years in machining, she looks back on employees who knew and liked each other, who had each other’s backs and worked hard for their employer.
“It was a great culture to work in,” she says.
That culture is going to come alive on Saturday, May 9. You can register by calling Diane at 705 735-6100 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org