Voices of the mill: Theresa Jones, 46, of Marysville
Turbine and Boiler Operator, 26 years
The Last Smokestack
Faces of the mill
More mill stories
- Federal aid to help 570 K-C mill employees find work (April 2012)
- Julie Muhlstein: Kimberly-Clark mill's end ‘devastating' (January 2012)
- Mike Benbow: 'Last of the big smokestacks' (September 2011)
- Op-Ed: Weigh in on the K-C site's future (March 2012)
- Pete Jackson: More than pulp and steam (September 2011)
- Talks begin on future of Kimberly-Clark mill site (April 2012)
- Voices of the mill: A strawberry princess turned boiler operator (March 2012)
As a Marysville teen, Theresa Jones was a Strawberry Festival princess who thought she'd become a school teacher.
Instead, she became a glass-ceiling breaker, one of the first women to run the largest biomass boiler on the mainland at the Kimberly-Clark paper and pulp mills.
It wasn't an easy journey. She started work at the mills just in the summers during college. The money was so good, she couldn't say no when the mill began hiring full time.
Her family had strong ties to the mills. Her mother worked there for years. So did her grandfather, who died at the mill in a forklift mishap.
First she hand-packed boxes of toilet tissue and ran a machine that converted large rolls of paper into smaller ones. It was hard, physically demanding work. But she was young and physically fit.
“It didn't bother me,” she said. “You couldn't beat the money. When you are young you have lots of energy. All the ladies would give me their overtime. I remember having pocketfuls of money.”
She bought a house and a car.
Eventually, she got bored. She wanted to try something new, and asked for work in the utilities department. Her first job there was driving a bulldozer, pushing mounds of wood waste known as hog fuel onto a conveyer belt.
The utilities department at the time was dominated by men, and it was clear to Jones the workers didn't welcome a woman. Eventually, she said she found acceptance by working as hard or harder than the men.
“I earned their respect,” she said.
She discovered she was a quick study when it came to learning about the mechanical equipment inside the utilities department.
Jones eventually rose to a top position running a boiler, a sensitive giant that makes enough power to fuel the mills operations — and then some.
After the announced closure, she took a job in Hawaii working on a new boiler a company is building that will supply power by burning garbage. She would have rather have stayed in the Northwest, but there isn't a ready demand for her skills here.
“There was no way I could stay in the area and earn the pay I was at,” she said.
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