Thursday, August 10, 2017

One of the First Jeep Girls

Recently I told you about my awesome journey to Toledo, Ohio ~ where I got to meet my online Jeep friend, Royal Barber. Royal ~  who is one lucky guy, by the way ~ works at the Toledo Jeep facility. 

He took me on an amazing tour through a sea of Wranglers being built from scratch. The one thing on that tour I won't ever forget was the extraordinary vibe I felt inside that Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio. It was a sense of fierce pride, overwhelming joy, but something even more than that. The feeling is something words cannot describe. 

Royals wife, Amber, is in Florida helping her Grandmother, who is in hospice, pack up her belongings. She wants to spend the remaining days of her life back in the place she loves, home in Toledo. Phyllis, called Busia by her family, is a decedent of Polish royalty. Her grandmother was a princess. Before Amber left for Florida her grandmother had one request ~~ to bring her a Jeep t-shirt.       

Jeep is a way of life. As a Jeep owner I get that. For the community of Toledo there is not a more fitting statement.  It literally is.... their.... way of life. This community is extremely proud of Jeep. 

James Jefferson, millwright, Toledo Assembly Complex. "We buy what we build. This is our passion. I couldn't be prouder. We work some long hours, but my attitude is: I don't have to come to work, I GET to come to work, and I enjoy that." 

The Jeep facility is the largest employer in Lucas County,
Ohio. It is vital to the stability and well-being of the community. This community is a passionately, proud bunch. They have fiercely fought several times to keep Jeep in Toledo. They know that even in those tougher times the Wrangler will always sell. To them it is not just a Jeep it's Toledo Jeep.  

Joe Nudi, team leader, Toledo Assembly Complex. "Anywhere you go around here, [the plant is referred to as] Toledo Jeep. It's never just Jeep, it's Toledo Jeep. Everybody knows somebody throughout the community, either directly here on the line or at another supplier plant ... Somebody you know builds a Jeep — somehow, some way."

Jeep has been a part of the Toledo community since 1941, even earlier when it was Willys-Overland. Even back then Jeep was vital to the community. More so than we can ever imagine. The area was still feeling the effects of the depression. The Toledo plant meant a lot to many families back in the World War 2 era. 

Phyllis Miller, Amber's grandmother, now 93,  took a job at the Jeep plant back in 1942 with several other women. They were from a Polish Village right next to the plant. Dirt poor not knowing where the next meal was coming from, Phyliss found her job at the Willy's/Kaiser/Jeep plant as a way out of "the life of poverty". Phyllis recalls, "It was the first time in my life I could remember having food on a consistent basis."

Life during the depression was like nothing any of us can imagine. As Amber helps her grandmother pack up her belongings, she is on a scavenger hunt for money. Busia, tells Amber of all her secret places she has left her money. She hides it everywhere.

This is a natural reaction a lot of people have because of the Depression. She doesn't trust the bank so she hides $1000 here and $1500 there. 

Jeep brought consistency to Busia's life and many, many others. Jeep gave her financial security during a time when they were dirt poor. She found new friends because of Jeep. These ladies were "forever friends" way before the phrase BFF's became popular. She met the love of her life, her husband, at Jeep. She also loved her job sewing seats. She worked at the Toledo Jeep plant from 1942 to 1978.

In Phyllis's words... Jeep gave me a means to a good life. Jeep means everything to me. I met the only love of my life at Jeep and Jeep gave me the means to raise two children. It gives me pride and I love that I worked on the Wrangler. I am proud to be a Union Sister. She said, "We weren't taking shit from anybody!"

Soon Phyllis will be back home in Toledo, the place she loves, with her family and friends as Jeep continues to change peoples lives. It certainly changed mine. However, Phyllis was lucky to find Jeep at an early age. It took me decades to find my Jeep. As Jeep changed Phyllis's life, Jeep forever changed my life. So to all those great Toledo Jeep workers past and present, my sincere thanks for your dedication to an American icon! 

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