Grimes Manufacturing left a big mark on Urbana decades ago, and though it has been absorbed into other companies, its longtime current and former employees continue to gather and remember the company.
The Grimes Quarter Century Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary in September. The club, started by Warren G. Grimes, offered employees at the company who had been there at least 25 years an annual dinner. This year’s dinner will be Sept. 24 at the Champaign Aviation Museum.
Grimes Manufacturing was founded in 1933 by Warren G. Grimes, known as the father of the aircraft lighting industry. Grimes drew on his electrical knowledge to create airplane lighting sealing coloring for lights inside the lens, eliminating a need to repaint lights, according to “A Light in the Sky: A Biography of Warren G. Grimes and A History of Aviation Lighting,” written by Nancy Patzer and published by Michael Major/Main Graphics.
The Grimes Quarter Century group adds more members each year, as employees who work at Honeywell (and its predecessors in Urbana) for that length of time can become members, club board member Cindy Melvin said. Grimes Manufacturing was sold several times and is now owned by Honeywell. The club has 784 names total, which includes deceased members. The group will add three more names to the rolls this year.
The club was important to Grimes, who expressed his appreciation in a speech to the Quarter Century Club at the August 1967 organizational meeting. The speech was provided by the Grimes family.
“You are the people I consider responsible for our success. You know I love all of you,” he said in the speech. “Without the people that started here 25 years ago, we wouldn’t be a company today.”
Former employees remember the business as more like family than work.
“I enjoyed all the great people and the customers,” said Marti Streator of Urbana. “Just being able to work one-on-one with customers was really great. I think we had really good working relationships with our customers.”
Streator worked for Grimes for 42 years, starting in quality control and then moving into an auditor role.
The company encouraged relatives of employees to work there, Melvin said.
“If your parents worked there, you were guaranteed a job,” she said. “And, you never had to worry; as long as you were there, you had a job with the company. A lot of companies aren’t like that anymore.”
Melvin worked for Grimes for 48 years, 25 years in engineering and the rest in support and administrative work. The atmosphere kept her going to work.
“Everybody had pride in doing their job,” she said. “I always looked forward to going to work every day. That’s not always the rule.”
She described the club as an extension of the family-feel to the company.
“It’s to remember the beginnings of what Mr. Grimes started,” she said. “I think we all went through a lot together, through thick and thin. It’s like a big family.”
Streator said Grimes always worked closely with his staff, paid for employee education and would bring in local education sources like Sinclair College to help train employees.
The annual gatherings are much like a family or high school reunion, Urbana resident and former Grimes assembly line worker Phyllis Kite said.
“As we get older, we see them get older,” she said.
The annual gathering is a good way to check in on former work associates.
“It’s about being able to see the people that built the company and keep the friendship and the memories that went with the company,” Melvin said.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.
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