WEIRTON, W.Va. – John Potocnik found his former co-worker Max Flinn sitting at a picnic table at the Serbian Picnic Grounds and immediately started talking about their careers in the Weirton Steel Company Production Planning Department.
“We come here to see if people we worked with are still around. This picnic is a great chance to see people who worked in the mill,” Flinn said.
The Weirton Steel 25-Year Club picnic saw approximately 500 retired and still active mill employees gather at the picnic grounds for a chance to eat a hot dog or hamburger, drink a cold beverage and talk about working in the once mammoth steel mill.
“It is kind of sad these days because when Max and I started in the mill there were 13,000 employees. Now there is just about 1,000 people working there,” noted Potocnik.
“We produced the best tin product in the world,” Flinn said proudly.
“And Weirton Steel was very innovative in its hey day. The BOP was the first of its kind in the country. And the tab lid on this pop can … it was invented by Weirton Steel,” noted Potocnik.
“And the community misses the old Weirton Steel. The company did so much for the community,” Flinn added.
It was a day for men and women to greet each other and immediately start asking for the latest family news.
Retired BOP millwright Gary Kirkpatrick said he was at the picnic, “to see everyone and talk about the old times and to see what is going on in their lives.”
“I’m here to see the guys I used to work with in the BOP,” said Ed Swiger who spotted retired BOP mechanical shop supervisor Paul Frey in the crowd.
“I worked with a lot of good guys during my 30 years in the mill and I came to see who was here today. I hear about some of the guys passing away and it is sad. We spent a good portion of our lives with each other and we are like family,” Frey commented.
“This picnic kind of draws you in. I spent 44 years in the mill and I try to come here every year just to see who will be here. I worked in pump repair so I am hoping to see some of those guys here today,” remarked Don King of Toronto.
“This is a chance to see people I worked with in the mill. Everyone is right. This is a chance to see people you don’t see all year so you come to the picnic to see who else might be here. It is a great day for sharing memories and seeing old friends,” Stan Gaston of Steubenville said.
Brenda Ice, vice-president of the 25-Year Club was busy greeting the crowd as they walked from the parking area to the picnic grounds.
“This is a celebration of all the hard work by the men and women who made Weirton Steel such a success for so many years. These people are like a second family for each other. And since we now fund this picnic through our sponsors and corporate friends as well as our own donations it makes this gathering even more special.
Dave Dulaney of Follansbee spent his afternoon telling former co-workers he had retired in March.
“No you didn’t,” was the common response to Dulaney who was known as a very hard worker who never turned down a chance to work an overtime shift.
“I talked it over with my wife and we felt it was time to start taking it easy and to spend more time with our granddaughters. I haven’t been to this picnic for the past 12 or 15 years but I thought this was a good time to see the guys I worked with in the mill. I worked in several different departments during my 46 years and met a lot of guys,” Dulaney said in between conversations with passersby.
Kevin Klages had thought he missed the picnic until his wife called him Saturday morning.
“She was driving through Weirton and saw the banner for the picnic and immediately called me and I came right up. I have seen a bunch of guys I worked with in the blast furnace department and the tin mill and I really didn’t want to miss this picnic,” laughed Klages of Wellsburg.
“This is a great turnout today. It shows the men and women who belong to the 25-Year Club want this picnic to continue every year and we will work hard to keep the picnic alive and well every July. We have people here from all over the country. People who may have retired and left the area still want to come back for this picnic to see old friends and talk about the old days in the mill. I can’t thank the club officers enough for all the work they do to keep this picnic going,” stated Club President Rob Baker.
“After today is finished we will start planning for next year’s picnic. It is a lot of work but well worth the effort. This is family here today and this is a great reunion,” Baker declared.
(Gossett can be contacted at [email protected].)