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Employee reunion offers past Parker Pen workers a chance to bid farewell to company

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Stacy Vogel
November 13, 2009
— The Pontiac Convention Center teemed with people Thursday night.

They exclaimed as they recognized each other in the lobby and laughed as they shared memories over dinner.


Some were lifelong friends, some were co-workers reconnecting after years apart and some were strangers meeting for the first time—but all were part of the Parker Pen family.


"It's like a big family reunion!" said Sheila JaDoul, Janesville.


About 550 former and current employees and spouses gathered for a final hurrah as Sanford Business-to-Business, the final descendent of The Parker Pen Co. in Janesville, closes its local operations.


The company announced the closing in August and told the state this week that it will start shutting down in January. The move will put 140 people out of work.


But many more have worked for Parker Pen, Gillette or Sanford through the years since the Parker family started the company in 1892. Gillette bought the company in 1993 and closed the Arrow Park plant six years later, laying off nearly 300. In 2001, Newell Rubbermaid bought the remaining special markets and repair divisions and consolidated them into Sanford Business-to-Business.


Roger Axtell, a former Parker Pen executive, organized the dinner with donations from the Janesville Foundation, the Parker family and Sanford.


Retired Parker Pen employees described a workplace that exists only in the history books these days.


"I worked there for 42 years, and I don't think anyone who's 20 now will ever work anywhere that long," said Honorae Thompson, Janesville.


"Or have more fun," one of her co-workers added.


For Thompson, Thursday's "family reunion" was literal. She sat with her sister, Judy Fanning, and four cousins, all of whom worked for Parker Pen.


"The bosses used to hate it when we were in the same department because they figured if there was a death in the family, we'd all be gone," Fanning, Janesville, said.


Much of the predominantly female workforce maintained ties over the years. Marcia Henry, Milton, and her friends from Parker Pen get together every year for a holiday ornament exchange. They passed around pictures Thursday of past Christmas parties and a Rose Bowl party—the only time JaDoul ever remembers being allowed to wear tennis shoes and a sweatshirt to work.


The evening was more subdued for a table of younger women in the back. They're current Sanford employees who will find themselves unemployed in a few months.


"This is easier for all of them (the retirees) because they're retired and don't have to worry about supporting a family," said one woman.


But the Sanford employees still consider themselves part of the Parker Pen legacy, said Dana Booker, Janesville.


"When people ask us where we work, I think a lot of us still say, 'Parker Pen,'" she said.



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