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Knouse Foods honored for contributions to community

November 03, 2008|By DAVE MCMILLION

INWOOD, W.VA. - The Knouse Foods Cooperative plant meant far more to this Berkeley County community than apple products.

It was also about building educational facilities and supporting the local volunteer fire department, speakers said at a ceremony at Musselman High School on Sunday.

Knouse Foods announced in August it was closing its applesauce production at its plant off W.Va. 51 in Inwood.

About 90 people work at the plant, but only about a dozen might be left when the applesauce operation is scheduled to halt Nov. 14, said Eddie Gochenour, a local resident who helped organize the ceremony to recognize workers and the impact the plant has had on the Inwood area over the years.

About 80 current and former Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc. employees were honored at the ceremony and about 200 people attended.

Knouse Foods used to be known as the Musselman plant, and Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said naming a school after a company is rare.

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The plant's dedication to the community was demonstrated when it donated $300,000 to build the first Musselman High School, which is now Musselman Middle School along U.S. 11, Arvon said.

Gochenour, former chief of the South Berkeley Volunteer Fire Co., recalled how plant officials were lenient in allowing members of the fire department who worked at the plant to leave their jobs to take fire calls.

"That plant made an impact on this community and it will last forever," Arvon told the crowd.

The connection to apples and the plant is evident throughout the school.

The students are known as the Applemen, there's the Apple Barrel Store in the school, and inside a glass case promoting an upcoming canned food drive is a huge, six-pound, 12-ounce can of Musselman Applesauce.

After a recognition ceremony for workers, some musical selections and words of remembrance, workers and others were treated to hot dogs. They sat at long tables and traded stories about the plant, which has operated for more than 85 years.

Clarence Dunham of Inwood recalled starting to work at the plant in 1950 and unloading 100-pound bags of sugar off railroad cars.

"You didn't get a lot of wages, but it was better than working in the orchards," said Dunham.

Dunham said he made 75 cents an hour, compared to orchard workers who made 50 cents an hour.

Dunham later loaded applesauce and vinegar onto trucks at the plant, and he recalled how up to 1,000 people worked there.

"It's a shame that it's closing down," Dunham said.

Also recognized Sunday was Clifford Rutherford, 91, of Inwood. Rutherford worked at the plant for 43 years and never missed a day of work.

"That's got to be a world record," said Rutherford's son, Frank Rutherford.

Knouse Food officials said previously that they will maintain a warehousing, storage and distribution business at the plant.

All employees whose positions are eliminated will receive a severance package and assistance finding another job, company officials said.

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