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Cement plan has century-old bond with the community

August 24, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

The first time Mike Shafer toured the St. Lawrence Cement plant in Security, it was many years ago when he was a student at Pangborn Elementary School researching a report on how cement was made.

"I got in because my dad worked there," Shafer said.

Now a Chambersburg, Pa., resident, Shafer returned Saturday afternoon for the company's 100th anniversary celebration.

Shafer accompanied his sister, Sharon Wiles. She said their father, Robert Shafer, died last November. He had worked for the company for 36 years.

"This is bittersweet for me," Wiles said.

"I've never been here before except to get insurance forms."

Shafer and Wiles said their father worked in the quarry, driving a loader.

"These men who work here make a good wage but they earn it," Shafer said.

"This is hard work."

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Williamsport resident Pat Downin said she was drawn to the company's anniversary open house tour Saturday because her father worked there for 31 years, starting when it was called North American Cement.

"His job here put food on our table," she said.

Recently, Downin attended an auction where a North American Cement sign was up for sale.

"I told my husband I just had to have it, and I got It," she said.

Introduced to plant manager Gary Batey, Pat Downin and her husband, Jack, said they had a great time at the four-hour event. There were tours and catered food served under a large tent on the grounds.

"You go to the store and buy cement and you never really know how it came to be," Jack Downin told Batey. "Now I have gotten to see how it is made."

The 114-employee plant yearly manufactures more than 600,000 tons of cement and contributes more than $6 million in payroll to the local economy, said company spokeswoman Cynthia Oates. The plant exceeds more than $20 million in annual operating expenses.

Operations began in 1903 at what was then Maryland Portland Cement, started by Charles Catlett to serve the flourishing Baltimore and Washington markets. In 1909, it was merged with Berkeley Limestone to become Security Cement and Lime.

Peak employment was around 350 employees in the 1970s, Batey said.

Through the years, the owners have included North American, Marquette Cement, Gulf & Western and Lone Star Industries. In 1985, it was purchased by Independent Cement Corp. It was renamed St. Lawrence in 1998.

"We are a very strong family business here," Batey said.

In his 20th year as plant manager, Batey said he was pleased Saturday with the turnout of current and former employees as well as members of the public.

Batey said St. Lawrence is proud of its past in Hagerstown and looks forward to continued growth and prosperity.

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