The Last Person to Turn Out the Lights at the Mill

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Dick Moyle returned the paper mill in November to check out the redevelopment taking place in the east wing. As he was leaving he spotted a pile of scraps that had been uncovered by the workmen from Frederick Construction. He just felt the need to run his hands throughout the loose strips of paper as a fond remembrance of his years at the mill.

By Jef Rietsma

Dick Moyle is in an exclusive group when it comes to former workers at the Simpson Paper Company. But it’s a dubious distinction.

“I was a part of the last group of people who were there until the day the place was locked up for good,” the 62-year-old Vicksburg-area resident said. “I wish my final memory of the mill was a better one, of better times, but I’ll never forget what it was like to be there after everybody was gone.”

Moyle, who spent 23 years at the Vicksburg landmark in a number of capacities, from union steward to management, attended a meeting at which a select number of higher-ups were told about the mill’s fate.

This many years later, he even recalled the date: Jan. 11, 2001.

“Well, I remember it pretty well because it’s my wedding anniversary,” he said with a laugh. “But beyond that, just because of the life-changing magnitude of it all, it’s just one of those dates you don’t forget.”

The fateful day came about five years after Simpson was bought by its biggest competitor, Fox River Paper Co. A Mattawan native, Moyle was the assistant converting superintendent when the transaction was completed. He worked under Gary Vandlen, a supervisor for whom Moyle has the utmost respect.

“A very intelligent man and one of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for … a really good guy,” Moyle said. “He ended up moving on and then I got his job the last three years or so. That was my job title to the end.”

Moyle said his recollection of Jan. 11, 2001, includes a team of people showing up in Vicksburg, a squad that included Fox River representatives and other people whom Moyle assumed were attorneys. Moyle said there was little small talk ahead of the words: “We are closing the mill over a matter of time.”

“You could have heard a pin drop … my heart stopped, and all of the people who worked for me at the time knew something was up when I came back down because you couldn’t smoke in our offices but I just lit up anyhow and thought to myself, ‘What are they going to do, fire me?’” Moyle said. “They asked us not to tell the hourly people until they made the announcement publicly that same day, but I went ahead and told my people, the supervisors and clerical.”

The closure was gradual. Moyle said he remembers operations in various departments would cease as the inventory of materials were exhausted. Eventually, a drop-dead date in March 2001 was identified as the last day.

“They said, ‘OK, we’re done with all operations, we’re going to ship out the rest of the paper to our other facilities and we’ll have them take care of it.’” Moyle said.

He recalled Tom Crockett who served as liaison between Fox River and its Appleton, Wisconsin executives and the few who remained to the end, including Moyle.

“They contracted out millwright workers to come in and move the equipment, so I worked with them until I was done in mid-June and they probably were the last ones out with a guy named Gary Jones.” Jones was the shipping superintendent at the time, “so I’m guessing he was the one who probably locked the doors not too long after I was done.”

As a member of the last group of employees at the mill, Moyle said he recalls being asked why he didn’t stick it to Fox River and just not show up anymore. He explained that he had nothing else lined up between the end of operations and closing the building for good.

Moyle, like many of his mill workers, wound up working at what was then Pharmacia, the successor to the Upjohn Co. He said the pharmaceutical company sent a representative to the mill to conduct interviews.

“A guy who worked for me, by the name of Steve Shaw, was an hourly employee and I used him as a fill-in supervisor when people went on vacations … he was a good guy and did a really good job,” Moyle said. “He left the company long before Fox River came in, but he had a pretty good offer from Pharmacia and I encouraged him to take it. I couldn’t guarantee him a supervisor’s position at the mill.”

He never confirmed, but Moyle speculated Shaw convinced Pharmacia to hire as many mill workers as it could.

Moyle provided an anecdote that he said speaks to the character of the
mill’s employees.

“You know, all the paper mills in the area were closing at the time and when we were next to close, I always had this fear that there would be some really blatant animosity, anger that the production people would throw at management,” he said. “When it came to our mill, though, I never saw any of that. I had hourly people tell me it wasn’t our fault, they said it was all on Fox River, and I was very relieved. I don’t feel I left any hard feelings there.”

Moyle’s last day was uneventful. He said he showed up on time. He, Jones and the millwrights loaded semi-tractor-trailers destined for Appleton or other mills, and they even went out to lunch together.

In his final moments, Moyle said he sat in what used to be his office and did a lot of reflecting. He thought of his earliest days on the job as a paster helper and trimmer operator.

“It was tough to walk out of there having the feelings that I had, knowing this place was my life for 23 very good years, I poured everything I could into it, and knowing the friendships and relationships that I had in there were now over,” Moyle said. “It was a hollow feeling. So many thoughts went through my mind, the people who crossed my life and so many who influenced my life and shaped me into the person who I am today. I say that and two guys in particular, Chet Dombrowski and John Bolhuis, come to mind; that’s how close-knit we were. It was a great 23 years.”

Moyle would go on to work 15 years for Pharmacia/Pfizer. He retired in 2016.

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