Socially distanced program held at Granite City Cinema
By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – It didn’t seem right to gather members of the Granite City chapter of SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) at the usual place for lunch in the middle of a pandemic, but there were annual awards and scholarships to be given out, so Chapter President Jeff Rains came up with a different idea – going to the movies.
The Granite City Cinema, that is, a downtown favorite here with three cool and dark film auditoriums. Rains had a movie to show, too – a rousing highlight reel of photos taken by Steelworkers retiree Doug May at SOAR meetings and community service projects in recent years.
“In the past, we’ve had a big luncheon and had a great time, but unfortunately, we have to tone things down a little bit,” Rains said.
He noted that the broad umbrella of today’s United Steelworkers now covers a wide range of industries, including primary and fabricated metals, paper, chemicals, glass, rubber, heavy-duty conveyor belting, tires, transportation, utilities, container industries, pharmaceuticals, call centers and health care. And SOAR’s membership reflects that.
“It’s retirees from all walks of life now,” Rains said.
The first order of business was to honor the chapter’s annual scholarship winners – six recent high school graduates who penned the best entries in this year’s essay contest, about the significance of presidential appointments.
“Our celebrities are right here in front of us,” Rains said. “These kids wrote fantastic essays. This is our future. Thank you, guys, for taking the time.”
Bob Daiber, former Madison County regional school superintendent, introduced the winning students, who each will receive $2,000 toward their educations.
“SOAR only asks one thing – they want you to do your very best and they want you to be successful,” Daiber told the students. “I personally hope you recognize always, as you go through your careers, the importance of Organized Labor – and maybe what it did for you as you began.”
The winners included:
- Anna Craig, of Granite City High School, to study biological sciences at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; sponsored by her father, John Craig.
- Marissa Gilley, of Pacific (Mo.) High School, to major in forensic science at St. Louis Community College-Wildwood; sponsored by her father, Darin Gilley.
- Noah Poiter, of Granite City High School, to study electricity and crane training at Southeast Lineman Training Center, Trenton, Ga.; sponsored by grandparents Maurice and Shiela Poiter.
- Kyle Schneidewind, of Collinsville High School, to major in business administration at SIUE to become a financial adviser; sponsored by his grandfather, Dennis Barker.
- Kendra Jackson, of Granite City High School, to major in business at the University of Arkansas and plans to own her own business; sponsored by her grandfather, Kenny John Nicol.
- April Downs, of Granite City High School, will study criminal justice and/or biology at SIUE; sponsored by Roger Downs, her grandfather. She was unable to attend the event.
Following the scholarship presentations, the program turned to the chapter’s annual awards.
LABOR LEADER OF THE YEAR
Antonio Wellmaker, president of USW Local 1063, representing workers at Amsted Rail in Granite City, was named Labor Leader of the Year for his steadfast leadership as the union dealt with prolonged layoffs.
Amsted’s work making rail parts tends to be cyclical, Rains said.
“People in Granite City know that after a couple years of the plant working steadily and hiring people, then they get a layoff, and everybody blames the union,” he said. “But Antonio kept them together. When we have a food drive, this gentleman is right there with us giving it out. At Christmas-time, when people are laid-off, he raises money to make sure they can have presents for their kids. Antonio, thanks for all your wonderful work.”
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR
Randy Affolter, a USW Local 1899 retiree, was honored as Volunteer of the Year by SOAR Vice President Dennis Barker for his work with SOAR’s monthly food sharing program.
“He’s always the first one there and the last to leave. He makes sure the food is given out,” Barker said. “When it’s not given out, he takes it down to Community Care.
“When we have a fish fry or barbecue, he’s always the first one to stop and say, ‘What can I do, how can I help?’ There’s no better example of a volunteer than that.
“Our organization wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for volunteers,” Barker added.
ACTIVISTS OF THE YEAR
Ron Overby, retired from USW Local 68, and his wife, Cynthia Overby, were named Activists of the Year for their dedication to causes such as workers’ pensions, health care and trade laws, Barker said.
The Overbys stay in contact with members of Congress, legislators and local elected officials to keep up with what decisions are being made and to put forward the union’s positions, he said.
“We need people to go to their offices and we need people to write letters to the editor,” Barker said. “We need people to do exactly what Ron and Cindy do for us. Without you, we couldn’t do what we do. Thank you so very much.”
FRIEND OF LABOR
Louis Goseland, newly named executive director of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans, has been an organizer for that group since 2017. Rains said he has been especially helpful to SOAR on technical matters such as setting up Zoom meetings and explaining legislation.
The Alliance for Retired Americans has 250,000 members in Illinois, and some four million nationwide.
“He’s let us know what’s going on in the state,” Rains said. “If someone’s trying to raid Social Security or trying to cut Medicaid or Medicare, he lets us know, and we try our best to keep up with what he’s doing.”
Goseland was at the meeting to accept the gratitude – and to give some back.
“We’ve got a lot of chapters in the Illinois Alliance around the state, but this is one of the best,” he said. “The work that’s done in building relationships on the political front, to advance the things that people need, is unparalleled, and the work that’s being done in building the community is like no other that I’ve seen. You should be very proud of the work that you do.”
Noting the nation’s current economic disparities, Goseland said, “If we can see billionaires go into space, we can surely afford to make sure that the one-in-four Americans who are currently skipping their prescription drugs can afford their drugs; we can ensure that Social Security’s here for the next generation. It’s my honor to do this work with you, and it’s my honor to be a part of the good work that happens in this community every day, thanks to your leadership.”