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Hope, friendship prevail at appreciation gathering

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Stacy Vogel
December 24, 2008
— Holidays are a time to be with family.

So before preparing for celebrations with their biological families, many General Motors, Lear and LSI workers spent time Tuesday night with their auto family.


And like any family gathering, there was a mixture of emotions swirling around the “Appreciation Day” party at Bobbleheads Sports Bar & Grill, 2709 S. Highway 51, Janesville.


“There’s nothing really to celebrate, but people are feeling—people are feeling hopeful,” said Steve Kerl, Janesville, UAW vice president.


Bobbleheads was packed Tuesday evening with auto workers hugging, laughing, chatting and calling out to friends. The bar offered food and drink specials, raffles and karaoke on the day the last SUV rolled off the line at the Janesville GM assembly plant.


And while workers acknowledged it was a sad day, it also was a day for hope, both for the future of GM in Janesville and the future of the laid-off workers.


Dave Johnson, Janesville, said he felt somewhat relieved that the end had come after all the uncertainty.


“I feel that, you know, at least they came out and told us they were closing,” he said. “It’s done. We need to pick up the pieces and move on.”


Johnson saw the layoffs as opportunities to try something new. Like many of the workers, he said he’s thinking about going back to school.


Heather Haschke, Janesville, wanted to make sure she carried a piece of the past into her future. She’s been carrying a brown tile around for weeks asking co-workers to sign it. She plans to put it in her garden.


“I’m hoping tonight to fill it up,” she said.


A few workers expressed darker emotions, such as frustration and apprehension.


“What I am is disappointed,” said Edward Nicholson, Janesville. “This community did not stand behind the plant.”


Nicholson said he wished more residents had called their elected officials and told them how important the plant was to Janesville instead of running down the workers.


But most focused on the positive—the friendships within the room and the chance that they might be called back to build a new product in the Janesville plant.


“It’s just wonderful that we all have this hopeful attitude right now that something else is going to come in,” said Shelley Ball, Beloit.


She and Haschke said they’re sure the GM family will keep in touch.


“Friendships that have built that strong over the years never end,” Haschke said.


Haschke had a New Year’s wish for herself, her friends and the community after a year of bad news.


“I am so looking forward to 2009,” she said. “2009 is going to be a good year for a lot of people.”


Ann Marie Ames contributed to this report.

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