Bells ring on True Blue Friday

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Valley shows support for GM workers

Staff report



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Bells at many area churches were rung Friday as part of True Blue Friday to support GM Lordsotwn. Video of Lordstown Christian Church.

Church bells rang out at 3 p.m. across the Mahoning Valley and even in Cleveland in support of True Blue Friday.

The Drive It Home campaign called for people to wear blue and take photos with their General Motors-built cars.

“We have had overwhelming support from our community,” said Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 1112, outside Lordstown Christian Church. “It means so much to our members to see that support roll in.”

Green said pictures of people in blue from different states and across Ohio were submitted in high numbers.

“It’s incredible and overwhelming,” he said. “We remain strong and continue to make sure GM knows this family here in the [Mahoning] Valley is not going to go away.”

GM worker Mike Fletcher said he thinks the outpouring of support is great to see.

“The more the better, and we’ll be here for all of it,” he said.

The staff at Sweeney Chevrolet in Boardman wore blue as well, though they recently came into possession of a much more tangible symbol of the plant’s last days – the final Chevrolet Cruze built at the plant is awaiting pickup at the dealership.

Alexa Sweeney Blackann, the store’s manager and the fourth generation of the family to work at the nearly 100-year-old car dealership, said a local individual expressed a desire to buy the car, so she and a dealer in Florida worked with GM to make changes to the distribution process to keep the last Cruze in the Valley.

She said the buyer has asked to remain anonymous for now.

Signs with messages such as “God Bless the USA” and “Drive It Home” were placed in the trunk.

When asked whether she was concerned the closure of the plant or potential anti-GM consumer backlash could hurt the business, Sweeney said she and the dealership staff are focused on the individuals most impacted by the developments.

Sweeney said the buyer of the final Cruze likely would pick up the vehicle from the dealership at some point next week.

While “unhappy” with the decision to close its Lords-town plant, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said, “The best thing is to help GM” by providing federal assistance to persuade the company to retrofit the facility to produce an electric vehicle.

“If not them, someone else will see that asset in our community,” said Ryan, of Howland, D-13th. “We’re going to keep plugging away.”

Ryan had a conference call Friday with reporters to discuss the recent shutdown of the 53-year-old facility.

“I want to say to all the workers and their families out there that we’re praying for them and we’re all in this together,” he said. “The stories have been really tough coming out of the plant, and they’re a resilient group.”

On the call was John DeGarmo, 35, of North Jackson, who has worked 12 years at four GM facilities – including Lordstown since November 2010.

DeGarmo said he doesn’t want to leave the area and his 3-year-old daughter. He and his wife are going through a divorce.

DeGarmo said he is planning to go back to school but might be left with no choice except to take a GM job out of the area.

“I can’t look into the eyes of my daughter and tell her I [may] have to leave for my job,” he said.

Meanwhile, activist Werner Lange and his wife, Roxanne, hosted an International Women’s Day celebration outside the plant Friday, with the large Cruze banner spanning one side of the plant as a backdrop.

Three GM workers – Vickie Raymond of Columbiana County, Sherry Farley of Fowler and Charmaine Reiter of Austintown – joined them as they paid tribute to the female GM workers.

The group lit a candle for each year the plant operated, with the candles surrounding a makeshift “Shrine of Hope.” The workers, whose last day was Monday, shared their stories and their plans for the future.

Raymond, who worked for GM for 24 years, said she’s holding out hope there will be a new product allocated to the plant. But this week “was like a five-day funeral process,” she said.

“We’re American workers who just want to go to work,” Raymond added.

Farley worked at GM for 20 years, and Reiter for 22 years at two different plants.

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