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Published: Friday, March 30, 2012
  • Ruth-Anne Huston, 57, of Arlington, worked at the mill for 38 years up until December as a converting machine operator. Huston is planning on using the Fair Trade Act to get a degree in accounting.

    Mark and Annie Mulligan / The Herald

    Ruth-Anne Huston, 57, of Arlington, worked at the mill for 38 years up until December as a converting machine operator. Huston is planning on using the Fair Trade Act to get a degree in accounting.

Voices of the mill: Ruth-Anne Huston, 57, of Arlington

Converting Machine Operator, 38 years

In this series, we're telling the stories of what the Kimberly-Clark mill closure means for workers and for Everett, which has been defined by mills for more than a century.
Working in a mill — that's a man's job. At least that's what Ruth-Anne Huston thought when she was a little girl growing up near the old Simpson Lee Paper Co. in Lowell.
At age 19, she needed work. She had an uncle and a friend who worked at Scott Paper Co. So she started work there as a hand packer, slamming six of the four-roll packs of toilet paper into a case at a time.
The pay was good, better than she was going to find anywhere else.
At the beginning, the job was blood, sweat and tears. She cut her hand countless times on the paper liner on the top of the boxes. There were some tears until she adjusted to the work. Eventually, she toughened up.
By the time she married and kids came along, she didn't want to stop working.
“These kids are so expensive,” she remembered thinking. “I can't quit now.”
Eventually, she ran a machine that converted giant rolls into smaller ones. Part of the job required her to figure out how to troubleshoot the machine. She loved learning to use the tools, tearing apart the machinery and putting it back together.
“It's something I didn't know I could do,” she said.
Today, the job market is tough, she said. She's going back to school at age 57 to start a career as an accountant. The Fair Trade Act is paying for her college degree. She's using her savings, unemployment and severance to pay the bills in the meantime.
“K-C was good to me for a lot of years,” she said. “It paid my way a lot of places people never get to go. It's a blessing for me.”

The Last Smokestack: Go to the main series page