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Jeannie Tucker, who worked 28 years at the plant, said she feels ashamed because she can't give her daughter the things her other children had during their senior year of high school: "We never expected to get slapped in the face like that — slapped down to nothing."
Paul Vinsant said his 27-year-old son recently told him to forget about having pride when he finds another job: "He said, 'Dad, whatever you do next, you can't have pride. You can't just give them 110 percent. Just give them enough to get by. That's all you can do.' I told him that I don't know if that's in me or not. He said: 'I hate to tell you, but you'll be done this way again.' "
Shelley Tomlin, 48, who is attending school with her husband, Bobby, who she met at Whirlpool before they were 20 years old, said: "Somebody asked me if I knew anybody who could come work at the employment office, and they had to have a bachelor's degree. I asked what it paid, and they said $14 an hour. I told him we didn't even have college, and we made more money than that. It's kind of hard going back to college not knowing whether you can make what you made beforehand. The good-paying jobs are gone."
"I don't feel like I learned anything from being there," said Melissa Dorr, the former worker who said she can't even drive by the old factory. "How's it going to help me now? I was going to retire from there. I was going to retire and go on about my business. If I'd known, I would have been looking for something else to do."
Dr. Debbie Faubus-Kendrick, director of the Adult Education Center, said that trying to help people in their 50s figure out how to cope with losing a job they held for 25-plus years — and the prospect of finding another one in a world where even younger and more qualified candidates can't find employment — is sometimes heartbreaking. She said that during the first round of layoffs, one older former Whirlpool worker came to a small, getting-to-know-you session at the center. The next week, Faubus-Kendrick said, she heard that the man had told his wife to ask his friend if she had any questions about what he was about to do, then went to his truck and shot himself. At press time, we were unable to determine whether that story was true or just an urban legend of the dispossessed; something former Whirlpool workers whisper to each other to remind themselves they haven't hit rock bottom.
"They break down and cry sometimes," Faubus-Kendrick said. "They say: 'What am I going to do?' We try to find resources for them and get them pointed in the right direction. They say: 'I haven't been in a classroom in 35 years,' and we'll tell them: 'You'll be fine. We don't expect you to walk in and know everything.' "
She said that while most of the former Whirlpool workers she sees come to the center looking like "deer in the headlights," they are soon able to fall back on what made them good at their previous jobs: punctuality, consistency, work ethic, the willingness to work as a team and lean on one another for support. She said that even after students move on to college, many of them show back up at the center, seeking reassurance.
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