IBM decision 25 years ago Friday changed Greencastle

Thursday, November 10, 2011
The building once known as Big Blue when it was home to IBM Corp.'s Greencastle operations from 1953 through March 1987, is now more like Big Beige as the current home to the Area 30 Career Center and F. B. Distro (Charming Shoppes).

For all the numerologists among us, the intriguing date 11-11-11 may be a banner occasion.

But for residents of Greencastle and Putnam County, Friday, Nov. 11 will mark the 25th anniversary of a day that changed the community forever.

Nov. 11, 1986 -- another Veterans Day, of course -- was the day IBM Corp. made the fateful announcement that it was closing its Greencastle facility after 33 years.

Big Blue on the city's East Side was a sprawling 350,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art automated distribution center situated on 234 acres along State Road 240, and the centerpiece of the community's industrial sector.

The impact of that decision on the community was not just the loss of 985 jobs, but also the loss of 20 percent of the assessed valuation, 40 percent of all local jobs and 70 percent of the industrial payroll.

By March 1987, IBM Greencastle was no more.

Some 300 IBM families would leave the area to transfer to other company locations, taking a human toll on churches, schools and organizations.

David Murray, first president of the Greencastle Development Center (brand new at the time), understands the effect the announcement had on the community.

"To me," he said, "it was like being a student in high school and hearing John F. Kennedy had been shot. I can tell you exactly where I was standing when I heard that news. That's how it was when I heard about IBM."

For the record, Murray was standing outside his office in the DePauw University Administration Building at the time.

"Somebody said, 'Have you heard?' and that ultimately led to 10 or 12 of us meeting every day for six months at Central National Bank."

And with that, the community had been "sucked into the vortex of major economic dislocation," as Murray has been famously known to put it.

Meanwhile, the moments leading up to that announcement are etched forever in the mind of retired IBM official Dick Andis of Greencastle.

Andis was sworn to secrecy for 10 days after picking up IBM-Greencastle plant manager Dave Kennedy and personnel manager Bob Hartz at the Indianapolis Airport as they returned from IBM headquarters with the stunning news the Greencastle plant was to be closed and operations consolidated in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Lexington, Ky.

"When they said, 'We're closing the plant,' I was shocked," Andis recalled Wednesday afternoon. "I let a few tears go."

But he and Kennedy and Hartz had a job to do, albeit cloaked in secrecy, to coordinate details of the stunning announcement to come on Nov. 11.

They had to coordinate the disclosure to the IBM employees, Greencastle City Council, Putnam County Council, governor's office, Sens. Richard Lugar and Dan Quayle and Congressman John Myers.

Andis often had to come in after other employees had left the plant to work alone on plans for the closure.

"We were told in very specific terms," he said, "not to tell anybody anything until the announcement was made. We couldn't even tell our wives, and that made for some very difficult times."

Andis vividly recalls having to tell late Mayor Gerald Warren the news the morning of Nov. 11, 1986.

"Frankly, we were concerned about Gerry Warren's health," he said of the mayor who would resign a few months later due to health issues. "I'll never forget the look on his face. He was quivering and saying, 'no, no, this won't happen.'"

Warren, a noted economist and professor at DePauw University, was ready to give IBM officials an economics lesson in an effort to convince them to change their minds, Andis recalled.

But Andis convinced him the decision already had been made. And it had been made for all the right business reasons.

IBM officials made the decision "knowing they didn't want to do it, but knowing that it was the right business decision," Andis assured, respecting how IBM went about the decision and how it dealt with its employees and the city.

And the 8-12 financial quarters that followed proved them right as IBM dealt with some fiscal setbacks.

Meanwhile, within 72 days of IBM's closing announcement, Greencastle had landed its first new industry -- Shenandoah Industries (later Lear Corp., now IAC) -- and community confidence was on the rebound, Murray recalled.

And by 1991, when Greencastle was named an All-America City by the National Civic League, it had welcomed seven new industries.

That still doesn't erase the memories for Andis, whose IBM career spanned more than 31 years with three separate stints in Greencastle.

"It still puts a little lump in my throat to talk about it," Andis admitted. "I have great difficulty even going back into that building.

"But I think I'm a better man today for what we went through and how we went through it. It's like the old saying, 'No pain, no gain.'"

Andis and others in Greencastle who shared the IBM experience of Nov. 11, 1986, still meet monthly for an IBM retirees group gathering. They have a family fun day each June and an annual Hotdog Day they look forward to, Andis said.

"We're lost 300 plus through deaths," he said, "but we're still a family. We were a family then. That's what made IBM was it was. It was a family."

Andis recalled that he, Kennedy and Hartz had shirts made up to memorialize their days with the company here.

"The shirts say, 'Long live Greencastle IBM,'" he said. "You know, I still have that shirt."

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  • I remember this day quite well...I was a second grader at TZ and it impacted my grandfather and my father. WE were one of the 300 families who traveled to Mechanicsburg PA and four years later IBM moved us to Rochester MN. We met great people, had experiences that most would only dream of having. Although it was tough for my family to leave the only thing we knew it made us the strong individuals each of us is today...and for that I'm grateful.

    -- Posted by smartmom on Thu, Nov 10, 2011, at 2:52 PM
  • i was a senior at ghs and it was pretty devestating news!! everybody was so depressed bc so many friends were going to have to move away. we werent thinking about being seniors and probably never seeing each other again anyways.

    -- Posted by badboy46120 on Sat, Nov 12, 2011, at 12:12 AM
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