Storying Resilience Podcast
Written, recorded, hosted, produced and edited by Kelly McIntosh
Funding “New Horizon’s for Seniors”/ Stratford Perth Museum
Executive Producer Peg Dunnem
ABOUT THE PODCAST
Celebrated Canadian playwright, actor and podcasters Kelly McIntosh interviews six former employees of the Kroehler Manufacturing Co., a company that dominated the furniture manufacturing scene in North America for the better part of the 20th Century. The Stratford plant had a reputation for creating a community environment so pleasing, former employees swear you would never find a better place to work. The company’s takeover in the 1980s by a conglomerate and subsequent abrupt closure in February 1992 left many without pensions, options, and plenty of questions.
McIntosh’s unique interview style comes from years of researching plays based on real life events. She questions her subjects as if she herself needs to know everything required to write their life stories in order to embody them on stage.
Co-written for the stage: Kroehler Girls, In the Wake of Wettlaufer, Ladies of the CNR, Hippie, The Outdoor Donnellys, Death of a Hired Man, Convict Lover.
Kelly has appeared on most stages across Canada, is the winner of the K.M. Hunter award for having an impact in theatre. She is the creator of the CBC radio Outfront documentary “Finding Ivy” and co-host of Better Already, a comedic friendship podcast about surviving a global pandemic, with Shannon Kohlmeier. She is an artistic associate at the Blyth Festival Theatre.
1. Gary Goulding
“Where the heck is Stratford?”
Gambo Newfoundland, November 1965: Gary Goulding’s mother wanted to get him working, and she didn’t mind where. She answered an advertisement in the Salvation Army War Cry, for a ‘call for work’.
“You’re gonna be going to Stratford for a job”.
“Where the heck is Stratford?”
At the age of 19 and before he knew it, Gary was on a train. He arrived in Stratford not knowing a soul. Through the Salvation Army he found a family to board with, applied at Kroehlers and was soon working on the upholstery line. He moved to stuffing cushions and eventually found a home in the shipping department.
But Gary’s main contribution would be advocating for a better life for workers, and as Union President his steadfast and fair influence would help many survive the moment it all went off the rails.
2. Sharon Flanagan
Buckin’ the Banks
What a girl won’t do to get to work. In this episode, we hear about some fairly extreme weather and death-defying strategies to arrive in time to punch the clock.
Having completed the four year special commercial course at Mitchell District High School, Sharon found work in the offices of Kroehler Manufacturing and within a year had saved enough to buy a 1966 Ford Falcon. With ten dollars a week for gas and a trunk full of ambition, Sharon mastered the Teletype, waded deeply into the steno pool, and faced off annually with the much anticipated January Sale, and yes, it always stormed during the January Sale.
Finally, a lost battle with the blizzard of ’77 and a life-changing decision results in a return to a familiar way of life, this time on Sharon’s terms.
3. Gerald Sloat
Old School/New School
A “Kroehler Kid”, Jerry recalls the extravagant Christmas parties he attended with his family at City Hall. He also remembers going to the factory on Saturdays and helping his dad with repairs when the plant was empty. When there was finally an opening in maintenance he seized the opportunity. But none of it prepared Jerry for what he would discover on his first day of work, when the curtain of the Kroehler machine shop was pulled back.
After time, and observing a sudden change in the way things were being done and having a wheelhouse of skills that would help him achieve his dreams Jerry took some well-heeded advice that led him into a life he may have never imagined.
4. Rose Marie Hartung (Belliveau)
Rose Marie’s mother returned to Stratford two decades after a family tragedy had left her stranded in Moncton, New Brunswick at the age of 11. Years later she came back home, and Rose Marie, 12, found herself living on Nile Street and attending the unfamiliar world of a convent: the Loretto College Catholic School on Grange Street.
At sixteen Rose Marie waved good-bye to the nuns and pursued a friend up the steps, through the sawdust and into the sample room at Kroehler Manufacturing where unexpected responsibility awaited.
5. Donald M. Wilson
The Kroehler Family
Don’s memories of Kroehler’s go right back to his boyhood when he witnessed a mosquito bomber on a flight path down the Avon River. The flight was in commemoration of Kroehler employees who worked on the bombers during WWII, including Don’s father who was production manager at the time.
Don was an avid sportsman and ambitious. Many hockey practices and night courses later he went on to apprentice in every aspect of office management at Kroehler’s. Bent on making something of himself he makes a surprising choice.
In the end, the bitterness of a shocking bankruptcy could never take away the sweetness of Don’s life at Kroehlers, nor taint his legacy as an advocate for sports and education in his home town.
6. Sheila Dale
Sheila Dale needs to be talked into the interview, and we soon learn she comes by it honestly: her crippling shyness motivated her move to Kroehlers at the age of sixteen, where she left high school and her social anxiety behind. Sheila describes the process of coming out of her shell at Kroehlers, finding love and escaping into the fun-loving atmosphere of the factory.
Sheila eventually finds escape of a different kind following her lay-off from Kroehlers, in anticipation of the company going into receivership.