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S&S employees plan for future in aftermath of fire
Jan 31, 2007 12:00 am
Under the stoic eye of S & S Industries, Inc. owner Ken Stilts, employees of his factory destroyed last week by a devastating fire gathered Friday for the first time since the tragedy to garner strength and kindle hope for a new beginning.
And while the Mt. Juliet fiberglass products plant building is now a mere shell filled with ashes and debris, the spirit of the business is alive as Stilts and his team pull together to keep the operation going with a goal to be "bigger and better than before and rebuild in Mt. Juliet."
Products normally made at the Mt. Juliet plant have been manufactured at the industry's other locations as well as in a maintenance building located behind the burned building.
However, the local makeshift production line Friday was at a standstill as nearly every S & S employee made their way to Victory Baptist Church for the spiritual meeting that included an uplifting message from pastor Chuck Groover.
Stilts stood before nearly 80 of his employees, visibly shaken as he looked over the determined crowd of people who tried hard to keep their emotions in check.
"It's great to see all these beautiful faces and feel the support," Stilts said. "You are behind the effort to get us up and going and this has been an incredible accomplishment. We are on the way. There's a little light at the end of the tunnel."
In a strong voice, Stilts told the workers there are plans to rebuild the factory with hopes to complete the structure within six to eight months.
"Yes, we will rebuild in Mt. Juliet," Stilts said. "We would never think about going anywhere else. We are not yet sure about the site we'll rebuild on, but yes, most definitely in Mt. Juliet."
Stilts said he owned other property in Mt. Juliet. He bolstered the crowd with news "zillions" of people are working to keep operations going and factory equipment had just arrived from Buffalo, NY.
Stilts' daughter Tina Pressley spoke to the employees as well, not only thanking them for their fortitude but to also salute her father.
"Today seeing all of you is like a ray of sunshine in a week of clouds," she said emotionally. "It's been humbling to me to watch these events unfold and witness you pull together and be such a team."
Pressley said the teamwork has extended into the community to make a difference at how quickly the operation was back up and running.
"I'm so proud of this guy," she said turning to face her father. "He is the man you want in charge at a time like this. There's no doubt about it."
Pressley said her father has through the years experienced many triumphs in his life and has faced "different choices" with lessons learned. She related her father a few months back told her he was feeling especially close to God.
"He told me, 'I don't know if He's preparing me for death or for something monumental,'" Pressley said. "Dad, I think this was your answer. God was preparing you for this."
Pressley then made an announcement that those in the room said perfectly illustrates the Stilts' values. The family has donated $10,000 to a special fund they've set up for other "folks who have experienced something like this," Pressley said.
"Because people have offered to help him, he wants to help someone else," she said.
The fund is at F & M Bank in Mt. Juliet.
Groover read from the Book of Psalms.
"God is in the midst of the disappointment, discouragement and fear," he told those in the room. "He is here to reach out and pull you up."
Groover told the employees they had a company that loves them and cares for them.
"You will rise above the ashes of this fire," he said.
After the gathering, Stilts said this first meeting together with all of his employees was "important."
"I know it's what I needed," he said. "So it's probably what they needed too."
He profusely thanked all those in the community who have outreached to his family and business.
The employees are also watching out for each other. When material handler Barry Cutlip realized co-worker Barbara Bisig's extensive Elvis collection kept in her office burned in the fire, he generously gave her some pictures from his own treasured collection of Elvis memorabilia.
"I know how much she loved all that stuff," he said simply.
Bill Barrett who works in quality control said Stilts' first comment to him was the company would come back better than ever.
"That's all you can ask," he said. "I know everyone who wants to work is working and getting paid. Ken is a great boss."
Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam was a guest at the gathering.
"This company and its employees have shown such strength of character you can't help but marvel at it," she said. "And the way the community has stepped up to help, I'm proud and I'm not surprised in the least."
Mt. Juliet Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 754-6397 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.