Studebaker Legacy Lives 50 Years After Closing


Patricia Ann Graham remembers Dec. 9, 1963.

Studebaker workers shuffled into the company’s benefits department, where she was a clerk, to fill out pension applications.

“I actually saw some of them cry,” she told The Tribune recently, “and it was all I could do to keep from crying with them.”

Sue Ann Ciesiolka, whose father was a Studebaker test driver in the 1940s and ’50s, used an analogy many have relied upon to describe their grief at the automaker ending its operations here. Production ended Dec. 20.

“When Studebaker’s closed,” she said, “it felt like a death in the family to me.”

The roughly 7,000 people Studebaker employed in South Bend accounted for 8 percent of St. Joseph County’s total employment. The average Studebaker worker was 54; 60 percent had relatives who worked for the company. It was difficult for older employees to say goodbye to the company where many had worked their entire adult lives and built their best friendships.

It also was difficult for many residents to imagine South Bend without the company, which was not just important to the local economy but a big part of the city’s identity. Studebaker started making wagons here in 1852 – 13 years before South Bend was incorporated – and the city grew up as the company became a mighty manufacturer.

“Studebaker was a global presence you could point to and say, ‘That was built in South Bend, Indiana,”’ said Andy Beckman, archivist at Studebaker National Museum.

So, when Studebaker decided to consolidate vehicle production in Hamilton, Ont., people in South Bend were affected psychologically as well as economically.

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Posted by on Jan 3rd, 2014 and filed under American Street Guide. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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