Carter Bros. decision eases Christmas blues

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 21, 2000

Features Editor

Dec. 20, 2000 10 PM

"If you can’t count on family, then who can you count on?"

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Lavenia Corley and 100 plus other workers at Carter Brothers Manufacturing Company at Hamilton Crossroads needed to look no further than "family" when dealing the uncertainty of their futures after fire destroyed their workplace Tuesday morning.

The fire completely destroyed the 55,000 square foot manufacturing and assembly plant at Carter Brothers where from 30,000 to 40,000 go-carts are made annually.

Corley is an inspector in the plant and works across the aisle from where the fire is thought to have originated. However, she was not there when the fire broke out.

On her way to work Tuesday morning, Corley hit an icy spot on the road and her car flipped on its side and she was unhurt but shaken.

When news arrived at Carter Brothers, owner Stuart Arn and several other employees rushed to the accident site.

"At Carter Brothers, we’re all like family and they came to see about me," Corley said. "My supervisor, Jonathan Turner, stayed with me until I was able to go home."

Corley had not been home long when the news came that Carter Brothers was burning. She was devastated.

"That’s the way I help make a living," she said. "I didn’t know what was ahead for those of us who depend on Carter Brothers for our jobs."

However, Corley knew if history is any indicator, the Carter family would build back. They did so after a tornado completely demolished the facility in 1987.

This time, the company’s office building and inventory warehouse had been saved and the welding shop was damaged but not destroyed.

"This morning, I heard that June (Carter Arn) said they will definitely build back," Corley said. "That was such good news to hear. You won’t find a better family to work for than the Carters – Miss Dessie, Mr. Woodrow, June, Stuart and their son. Jonathan. They’re just good people."

Corley said, from what she understands, the employees will be able to draw their unemployment and "that will be a big help, but I’ll be anxious to get back to work."

The reality of facing Christmas with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over her head is something that Corley had not anticipated.

"It’s a sad feeling, but we have to take one day at a time and trust in the Lord to make a way for us during the difficult time," she said. "But it could have been so much worse for us and the company. We had just gotten through with our rush orders for Christmas last week and the period after Christmas is the slowest time of the year. If what I’ve heard is right, maybe will be up and running again by late spring. So, if a fire had to happen, maybe this was the best time. Maybe it was God’s timing."

Later, in the day good news filtered out to employees of Carter Brothers.

Betty Warner, shipping clerk, said she worked much of the day ordering supplies.

"My computer is gone and one is now on order so we can set up in the cafe and start shipping parts," she said. "June said this morning that many of the employees will be used in the clean-up effort. In fact, many of them were already down there today to start cleaning up so the plant can be rebuilt."

Warner said when the fire alert came, she ran from the building leaving her belongings behind.

"My purse, my car keys, my coat," she said. "I didn’t have time to get anything," she said. "I ran across the street and stood there and watched and cried, just like I did when the tornado hit. Most of the employees were very upset. We couldn’t help it. We enjoy the people we work with and the people we work for and the Carter family has made it much easier for us. They said we will be back and, if they say it, they mean it. We will be back."

Jane Johnston agreed that a quick decision by the Carter family made dealing with the tragedy much easier for the employees.

"It all happened so quickly," Johnston said. "One minute you’re at work and three minutes later you’re watching your place of work going up in smoke. We were all worried and anxious, not knowing if they (Carter family) would want to go through building the company back again.

But, Miss June didn’t keep us wondering long. She told us not to worry, ‘We will build back again.’ If they hadn’t made that decision so soon, it would have been a very blue Christmas because we would have felt stranded.

I believe the employees and the community are the main reasons for their decision. We are all so proud to work for people like them."