Fifty years ago, a vision to provide jobs for disabled workers in Southwest Missouri became a reality when the Crowder Area Sheltered Workshop opened on August 11, 1969. That legacy continues and as Crowder Industries, continues to impact the Neosho community.
A 50th Year Anniversary Celebration was held on Tuesday at Crowder Industries. The event was attended Crowder Industries' 110 employees, past and present board members, community representatives, customers and elected officials.
The majority of Crowder Industries' employees have some type of disability but others provide support in the production process. The combined effort is what continues to make Crowder Industries successful.
Crowder Industries' workforce provides assembly work, packaging services and cardboard production. Some of their current clients include La-Z-Boy Midwest, K & S Wire, Dig Defence, Clark Funeral Home, Nutra Blend and several others.
"This is not made work," Missouri State Senator Bill White said. "These are real jobs."
Challenge coins or tokens were handed out to all who attended. One side of the gold coin featured their logo with "Founded 8/11/69" and "Our People Make The Difference'". The opposite side displays "Crowder Industries - 50 Years Strong" in the center and their mission statement: Provide meaningful work to our disabled friends and neighbors.
Proclamations were presented to Crowder Industries for their landmark 50-year anniversary and contributions to the community by Missouri State Senator Bill White, Missouri State Representative Ben Baker, Newton County Presiding Commissioner Bill Reiboldt and Neosho Mayor, William Doubek.
Jeff Werneke, current president of the Board of Directors opened the ceremonies. A slide show of Crowder Industries over the years was provided prior to the event, chronicling the growth of the Crowder Area Sheltered Workshop to Crowder Industries.
"This is real manufacturing, these are real jobs and these people are real workers," Werneke said.
Employees with 30 or more years of service were recognized and these included Laura Armstrong, Tony Figeroa, Ricky Huff, Denise Moore and Tom Silvers. Both Patricia Embrey and Max Fedder reached forty years of service.
Rhonda Thurman was recognized as the employee with the longest time of service. She started work at Crowder Industries in 1972 at the age of 18 and continues to work today.
Each received a plaque honoring their years of service.
Other speakers included former state representative Kevin Wilson.
"Crowder Industries has been successful in its' mission, providing meaningful jobs to its' disabled employees for half a century," Ben Baker, current Missouri state representative and former local mayor said. "I always enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of the employees here. They love their jobs, they love being here."
Current Crowder Industries General Manager Greg Cook also spoke about the operation and the employees. He noted that the first manager was Vernon Stonecipher, whose wife, June, also worked at Crowder Industries. Klaus Tamme served in the general manager role for twenty years after the Stoneciphers.
"Those first three managers cover 45 years," Cook said."Do they stay for the money? No. Do they stay because it's an easy job? No. They stay for the people."
In addition to Werneke, who serves as President, current members of the Board of Directors include treasurer Gina Rodriquez, Fred Gardner, Chris Wade, Warren Langland, T.J. Angel, David Pevahouse, Gary Moon and Larry Vancuren.
Following a special ribbon cutting to commemorate Crowder Industries' 50 years of operation, cake and other refreshments were served.
"Who owns Crowder Industries?" Cook asked. "It's the community. It's owned by everybody in this room, our employees, our customers, our distributors. You would think after 50 years, it would all be smooth sailing but it's not. There are still a lot of rapids, there are still challenges. We're going to meet those challenges and the reason I'm confident that we will is that we've done it for 50 years and we'll do it for at least 50 more."
Crowder Industries is located at 3707 Howard Bush Drive, Neosho, part of the Industrial Complex.