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.
Cathy Vanderberg expected to retire from Kimberly-Clark in another decade. Now she’s contemplating a first for her adult life: not working.
It’s not a choice she would have made on her own.
She started at the company converting gigantic rolls of paper into the smaller ones that become paper towels.
Eventually, she worked her way into a safety job that perfectly fit her outgoing personality.
She made sure people had the right equipment and training to prevent accidents. If one occurred, it was her job to investigate.
“I took care of people,” she said. “I loved it.”
She wants people to know that the employees at the mill worked hard. They made a decent living but they felt like they earned it. They were proud of what they produced.
The full toll of the closure hasn’t been measured, she said. It’s not just the jobs at the mill lost but all the other vendors that serviced the mill and other businesses that benefited from the mill workers’ paychecks, like the little sandwich shop down the street.
“This is very sad to me,” she said. “Especially knowing the workforce and being so proud of what we did.”
It’s tough leaving all her friends. The people she worked with were more than coworkers. Chances are, she won’t see many of them again.
Even now, those left working are still willing to work hard, even if it’s getting the mill ready for closure and demolition. She wonders what the mill’s disappearance means in a larger sense for this country.
“It’s hard to find American-made products these days,” she said. “I just don’t understand how our country is going to continue to keep going on this downward spiral. What’s going to happen when these jobs go away?”