OLYMPIA - About 150 current and former employees of Crown Beverage Packaging celebrated 50 years of manufacturing metal beer and soft-drink cans Saturday at the company's plant on Fones Road.
They gathered to eat hot dogs, look at old pictures and share stories about a plant that opened in 1959 to make beer cans for the Olympia Brewery. Today, the 210,000-square-foot plant employs 115 people and produces 4.5 million cans a day for companies such as Pepsi, Molson Coors and 7-Up, said plant manager Dan Joanis, also a longtime employee.
Many of the former employees came Saturday to talk about the plant’s early days.
Before it was Crown Beverage, it was run by the Continental Can Co. until 1990. Glen Kitsch, 79, worked for the company for 40 years, starting in Portland in 1955. He later was asked to help set up the new plant in Olympia, he said. Kitsch said he remembers when he earned $1.20 an hour and received a nickel raise after his first few months on the job. The starting wage now for hourly workers is $15.98.
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“It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but then, gasoline cost a quarter,” he said.
Husband and wife Darrell and Carole Holt started at the plant in the 1960s. Darrell made the bodies of the cans and Carole made can ends. Carole, who started in 1969, recalled that the plant used to strictly make cans for Olympia beer, but by the time she retired in 1999, the plant produced about 500 labels. For a while, as the plant grew, it made more beer cans than soft-drink cans, but beer cans now are only about 25 percent of its output, Joanis said. Today, the plant produces about 440 labels; its largest customer is 7-Up, he said.
Darrell and Carole Holt have three nephews who still work at the plant.
“This company has been real nice to our family,” Darrell said.
Also in attendance Saturday were Vaun “Lumpy” Lundblad, one of the first people to be hired at the plant in 1959; Vertis Love, a statistical process control supervisor who has worked for the company for 38 years, including in Olympia since 1994; former plant manager Troy Lovett; and David Smalley, an hourly worker who has been with the plant a little more than four years. He called his time at the company the “best thing to have happened to me.” Before joining Crown, Smalley spent 16 years at Setina Manufacturing in Olympia, he said.
Crown Beverage is a division of Philadelphia-based Crown Cork & Seal USA Inc. Since 1959, peak employment in Olympia reached 300 people; those numbers fell as the company underwent realignment, Joanis said. The plant is set to ramp up to a seven-day-a-week schedule, operating 24 hours a day, at the beginning of the new year, he said.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403