The last part of the Janesville General Motors plant facade is dropping as I write this column. It was a long process from 2008 to last spring, but the speed of the plant’s removal on Industrial Drive has been nothing short of fascinating. This process included Commercial Development Company stating bricks would be made available to the community. The company worked with Blackhawk Community Credit Union and its legacy center, directed and curated by Dona Dutcher, to implement the brick’s distribution.

My family had the unique opportunity to assist Dona in April as preparation started for the first round of distribution. It was great to roll up my sleeves and dig in, but it was more interesting watching my six kids interact with the dozens of volunteers. The first day we jumped into the pile of 100-year-old bricks, I asked them, “What do you think this means?” I received a few shoulder shrugs before they dove back into the pile looking for the best bricks to stack on the pallets. Between the first hour and the time the last person drove though the parking lot on distribution day May 4, their response changed.

Why were they doing this and why did it matter? The only glimpse of the plant they had was during the retiree tour with their grandpa the last week of production more than a decade ago. The bricks mattered because they knew they were for their community. I didn’t put those words in their mouths. It was from the interaction of former employees over a month span. Men and especially women took the time to share their stories with my kids who range from 10 to 18 years old. It sunk in. They weren’t doing it for a certain group but for their community.

The interaction was good for my soul as well because I had a chance to spend some quality time with my dad. He spent 37 years at GM—many of them as a maintenance supervisor. He didn’t talk much about “the plant,” and I can count on one hand the number of times I stepped foot in the building with him. It was typically during holidays or changeover. I’d jump in a cart, and he’d drive me to his office for a few minutes.

While sorting through bricks, I was thankful to stand side by side with my dad while we handed out the bricks from the Blackhawk Community Credit Union branch on West Court Street. It was a day I will never forget because I was with him, and we were doing it for our community.

Round one of distribution was a top-10 Saturday in my many Saturdays of life. I saw some familiar volunteers, and I was introduced to a few new folks. After sharing stories and mentioning friends in common, we were certain we had crossed paths hundreds of times in town. The kids? They were a little wiser when they jumped in that Saturday morning. There was no need to ask, Why? They were all in.

Up next: Round two! I received a call from Dona Dutcher last week, and we started the process of getting ready for another distribution. Particular details on when and where will be announced. Whether you care about bricks from an old building or not, I hope one thing is clear: The “old” is building up our community one brick at a time.

Steve Knox lives in Janesville. He also writes a blog, Gen-X in J-Ville, about community issues for GazetteXtra.com.

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