‘Ron Hooker has stories to tell’

“Ron Hooker has stories to tell.”

It was a simple statement in an email that turned out to be so very true.

In the weeks leading up to the closing of Electrolux in 2011, there was one man whose memories stood out: Ron Hooker.

He’d left the cyclical ups and downs of a family farm in Goldfield for good-paying, steady work in a factory in Webster City. That factory and the role it played in this community, this region and his life was one of his great passions.

So, as passionate people do, he kept records.

A lot of records.

Hooker became the unofficial historian of the plant that eventually became Electrolux, and that is why I met him. He generously shared with me his ring-bound accumulation of photos and clippings as I prepared the Electrolux series that appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal and The Messenger.

He was a member of the so-called “blue collar” legions who kept this region alive through its own ups and downs.

But he’s gone now. Gone in a car crash in Boone County on Monday along with his wife, Marie.

They had welcomed me into their kitchen and into their lives on a bitterly cold winter day, Marie leaving us to pore over the bulging scrapbooks her husband had compiled.

Those scrapbooks portrayed an America that was vanishing.

“No offense,” Hooker told me at one point that day. “It’s like writing the obituary of the company.”

It was the end for wage earners who thought they could retire from a big factory job as did generations before them, the end of a behemoth manufacturing presence in this 8.6-square-mile Iowa town. And it was the end of hundreds once thousands of regional jobs that paid an average of $16.50 an hour.

Hooker put that into perspective.

“I started in 1952 at 98 cents an hour,” he said. “They were good jobs, for that time.”

He was 77 that day we talked in his kitchen. He had left the family farm thinking he’d return to it after a short stint of factory work.

Hooker retired after 41 years, still owning the farm, but never becoming a full-time farmer.

He was a factory worker, and he was proud of it. And he expressed his gratitude for the living that work provided by preserving a piece of its history.

Because he did that, a part of this community and he will never be lost.