"A sound mind in a sound body"
Imagine finding your shopping needs -- everything from food, clothing, tires and toys to shoe nails and chicken feed -- in one place without leaving the premises of the Hamilton mill. That was possible during the 17 years of the Champion Store, an example of the variety of facilities, services, activities and benefits afforded employees during the mill's first 100 years.
"It was very popular with employees," recalled Ed Bauer, who was hired in 1928 when the store was operating. "When people were running out of money before the next pay day," Bauer added, "there was the store -- practically a general store -- with groceries and meats and everything." Noel Samuels, also a new employee in 1928, said "there was just about everything you would want. And, it seemed to be cheaper than buying in other stores."
On opening day, Friday, June 1, 1917, employees bought the entire stock of many items. The store started in temporary quarters before moving later that month to its permanent location, now the site of the mill cafeteria. The company invested $20,000 in establishing the "cooperative grocery store," as it was first called, but eventually it expanded into a department store.
The mill purchasing department, directed by W. D. Randall, secretary and treasurer, acquired its varied merchandise.
Many details of its operation were shared with employees in company publications (Champion News and Champion Activities).
One promotion emphasized "the Champion Store is not operated for profit, but solely for the purpose of giving our workers the benefit of the great Champion buying power." Industrialist of the period believed rewarding employees with discounted merchandise at company stores encouraged company loyalty and stabilized employment.
"When you buy any article at the Champion store," another promotion explained, "you pay only the cost of securing and selling that article to you. There is not another penny added. This cost includes the cost of the article (purchased wholesale), the cost of shipping, and the cost of the selling, which includes only the salaries of the clerks. In the cost of selling, there is no charge for rent, lights, telephone." The store also created jobs. For example, a December 1928 advertisement featured the "folks in the Champion Store." Seventeen workers -- nine men and eight women -- were pictured.
At first, coupon books -- in $2.50, $5 and $10 denominations -- were sold to employees who could use the script in the store. No cash was handled when the store opened, but that soon changed. Later, if a bill was paid in cash, change was given in currency or coins; if payment was in script, change also was in script.
In the late 1920s, Bauer said "if you had worked two days, you could get $2 worth of script, and if you had worked four days, $4 worth. Of course, that would be deducted from your next pay check." A similar system applied to those buying or renting company houses, "and you also could buy coal that way" through the company, Bauer explained. "I remember a New Year's Eve, which that afternoon had been pay day," he said. "One fellow came up to me and said 'Look at my pay check. Isn't this a heck of a way to start a new year?' It was for $1.26 because they had taken off for his coal, rent and script."
"I was the guy who went to the store for lunch for the group," recalled Jim Hoerner of his 1931 experience as a co-op student from the University of Cincinnati. "Generally they'd spend about 15 cents each for that lunch, which probably would be a bratwurst and a cup of coffee," said Hoerner, whose pay then was 30 cents an hour.
He said the script "was supposed to be used only for clothing or food, but some guys had other uses for it. They'd go up there and get their script, and then go back to some of the script brokers in the mill. A guy in the machine shop, for example, might give you 90 cents in cash for a dollar in script." It also worked in reverse, script for cash, he said.
"When you spend a dollar in the Champion Store you have increased the purchasing power of that dollar to the extent of 8 percent," declared a 1926 advertisement. Three years later -- when George Tabbert was identified as store manager -- a report said customers were saving an average of 16 percent from regular retail prices.
"A Champion worker purchases at the Champion Store a pair of high grade shoes. He pays $7.25 for them," said the 1929 promotion. "These shoes are never sold in regular stores for less than $9, and usually they are sold for $10. But the Champion worker secures them at a saving of 27.5 percent."
"The Champion management is not giving anything away," admitted the same announcement. "But the Champion management is putting the great Champion buying power to work for the folks who help it. However, there is no practical way to operate such a store as this except to handle the goods that will sell, and in quantities that will be taken by Champion folks. Therefore, the more workers who patronize the store," it was explained, "the larger will be the volume, and increasing volume always lowers wholesale costs -- bringing down the selling price."
Another explanation said "in an ordinary store increased volume means increased profit, because the increased volume makes possible a lower wholesale cost. But in the Champion Store an increase in business means a lower wholesale cost of the merchandise, and therefore a lower selling price." The Champion Store logo featured a slogan: "More use of the Store makes the store more useful to you."
A wide range of merchandise was handled and in 1926 its inventory was valued at about $50,000. Many familiar name brands were on the shelves. In 1928, the store boasted of the addition of a complete line of Purina-Ralston products, ranging from breakfast cereals to chicken feed. Later that year, the Champion Store advertised "all-wool rugs and blankets made from mill felts," which could be bought on an installment plan.
Mill publications reported several improvements in facilities. In the summer of 1926 -- when potatoes were $2.25 a bushel -- a "new vegetable and fruit table, with running water to insure freshness at all times" was installed, "the idea of several of the Champion workers," said Champion News.
In the fall of 1928, the store announced a "new ventilator which supplies your store with good, clean, fresh washed air. It was designed and built by our own engineering department." The promotion said "in addition to the comfort to the Champion workers who come to the store, it is more sanitary and a good place to keep foodstuffs."
Customer services included cooking demonstrations. A report in the summer of 1927 said "in two days, Champion folks purchased more than a thousand packages of Royal Gelatin -- not merely because they discovered this to be a good product, but also because they had learned of new and easier ways to use it. In the near future we shall have a fruit canning demonstrator."
The store also stocked its shelves for holidays. "Everything is ready for your Christmas gift buying at your own Champion Store," said a December 1926 ad, and a similar promotion two years later listed everything from toys, ties, candy, fruits, cigars, tires, leather coats, gloves, glassware, umbrellas, sweaters, scarves, silk underwear and stationery to slippers and fruitcakes. Easter shoppers in 1929 were reminded that the store carried dresses, suits, shirts, hats and shoes for children.
More than 29,000 customers visited the outlet in December 1926, and a record-breaking year was reported in 1928. Champion News said there were "310,931 sales in 1928 on regular lines," including 223,434 sales in the grocery department, 33,326 packages in dry goods, and 54,171 pieces of meat "carried out by Champion folks." December 1928 was declared the greatest month in the store's history.
Other examples of volume include 2,250 dozen oranges sold at 10 cents a dozen in a brief period in 1927, and a March 1926 report that Henry (Butch) Weisenborn "has cut over a half million pounds of meat in the six years he has been in charge of the meat department."
Eventually, success killed the company store. It closed Dec. 24, 1934, after Hamilton merchants complained that the store was costing them too much business.
Less is known about company housing, which could be rented or purchased by employees. New jobs were created as the mill expanded and paper demand increased. Periodically, from about 1900 through 1930, new workers moving to Hamilton encountered difficulty finding shelter.
Carlton D. Blount said his father, James G. Blount, left his job as a carpenter for the Louisville & Nashville and Southern railroads in central Kentucky in about 1916 or 1917 to move to Hamilton to help build Champion-owned houses on the south side of Webster Avenue.
Bill Compton said the company owned about 10 houses on Rhea Avenue and about 10 on Warwick, some "all the way up to E Street." He said "Champion sold some of those houses to employees in 1920s before the Depression."
Compton's parents resided at 118 Rhea Avenue -- the third house from B Street -- which he said "wasn't built by Champion, but bought by Champion." In 1936 or 1937, his grandfather "bought it for his son with Champion money because the owners wouldn't sell to Champion. Needless to day, we had the best-kept company house," said Compton, because Guy Compton, "my grandfather, was over all the houses as the mill maintenance superintendent." Bill Compton was the fourth generation of his family to work in the mill, starting with Bruce Compton in 1904 and continuing with Guy Compton and Bob Compton.
Roy N. Kelley recalled his family moving from Dayton, Ohio, to a house on Webster Avenue in the 1920s. "We soon found that most of our neighbors worked at Champion," Kelley said, "and many of them lived in small cottages which were identical reproduction.
"It seems that these houses were built by Champion and rented to employees as part of incentives to become one of the Champion family. Most had been lured from hard scrabble lives in Eastern Kentucky, where the once prosperous coal mines were now abandoned," Kelly said. "The houses were adequate, but without frills of any sort. There were no bathrooms as such. However, each house had a commode located in a cubicle on a back porch, which was a great improvement over the rural 'room and path' of rural Kentucky.
"I was told by a carpenter who helped build the houses that the company paid the contractor $700 for each house. The homes were later sold to the occupants and have been enlarged and improved to the extent that the original owners would not recognize them. There was a strong sense of community in the neighborhood. Many of the people were related, or knew each other. Often square dances were held in the homes," said Kelley, a Champion employee from 1938 through 1981.
"At one time the housing problem was so bad that workers who were not married or had not moved their families to Hamilton shared the available beds. There were two shifts at that time, 11 hours and 13 hours. As one occupant left for his shift, the other made his way from the mill to the still warm bed. Some of the larger homes on Warwick Avenue were used in this manner," explained Kelley.
Compton remembered a two-story boarding house on Warwick Avenue and others on Cereal or Webster avenues. Bill Stephenson recalled only one large boarding house, which he said had 25 to 30 rooms, and also included families. He said it was on Martha Avenue, just south of Rhea Avenue, but later was moved to Warwick Avenue. Stephenson said the company charged about $7 or $8 a month for a family. He said the boarding house was operated by Steve Aherst, who also used to make sandwich lunches and sell them to mill workers.
Workers could pay rent or house payments via payroll deduction, and the rental rate was frozen when an employee died, assuring the spouse of paying the same amount as long he or she occupied the house. At the end of 1993, Champion still owned one rental house under that arrangement.
The emphasis on sports in the Hamilton mill originated with its founder and leader for 38 years. "During all the years of his life, Mr. Thomson believed in the principle of a sound mind in a sound body. So he never neglected to keep himself in sound physical condition," noted the Journal in reporting the death of Peter G. Thomson in July 1931. His encouragement of fitness and sports activities for his employees was an extension of that philosophy.
"Grandfather apparently was not a particularly husky child," said Dwight J. Thomson of Peter G. Thomson. "He was rather a frail child, as I understand it, and early on in his teenage years, he became interested in physical development, his own physical development." Peter G. Thomson, at age 9, encouraged by his father, joined a gym operated by a professional boxer and worked out there for 25 years. At age 22, he set a gym weightlifting record. "I lifted 1,265 pounds in a competition in the old Pike Theater for that medal and record," he recalled. One of his scrapbooks includes a prize for Indian clubs earned Jan. 8, 1873, at the Young Men's Gymnastic Association of Cincinnati.
Dwight Thomson said his grandfather "was a small man, and I don't think he ever weighed more than 160 pounds, somewhere in that range, but it was all muscle, even toward the last year or two. He never let himself get flabby or fat." Frank Burns, a mill employee and foreman from 1914 through 1962, called Champion's founder "as nice a guy as I ever met" and remembered that "every day about 11 o'clock he'd go to the Y." "He loved to walk," said Dwight Thomson. "He always -- on nice days -- winter, summer or whenever he could, walked to church because the College Hill Presbyterian Church was only about a mile from Laurel Court, his home, and walked back" while the remainder of the family went by car.
"He loved to walk at night," said his grandson. "He had a machine shop at the Hamilton plant trim him out a solid steel rod about an inch in diameter" and "maybe four feet long and, when he'd walk in the evenings after dinner, before he went to bed in College Hill, he'd carry this steel rod along, primarily to exercise, because he'd swing it around - for his wrists, arms, etc., and I think too he had a little hope that somebody would try to jump him and rob him because he'd have them flattened for sure and possibly killed them if they tried it.
Dwight Thomson said "I recall Everett Stevens, who was grandfather's personal chauffeur first and later went to work for the company as the company chauffeur. Everett lived there at Laurel Court in the chauffeur's quarters, and grandfather used to get him out and try out judo holds and stuff on him, and, as Everett said, he'd flip him right over his shoulder on the floor. After a few of these sessions, Everett tried to be somewhere else when grandfather sent for him."
The company renewed its founder's philosophy in 1987 with the opening of the Champion Health and Fitness/Training Center at Knightsbridge Drive and Peck Boulevard, including a fitness testing room and health resource library as well as exercise room, locker rooms and showers. The facility is part of the Champions for Life program, launched in Hamilton in 1985. It emphasizes health assessment and health education in addition to exercise programs.
To improve coordination and administration of the many employee activities, the Champion Employees Activities Association was established in late 1946. When formed, CEAA's board of control included members from 17 activity groups, plus representatives from mill areas, the Champion Service Association, the Supervisors' Association, Chaco and the industrial relations department. Its mission was to oversee social, athletic and cultural organizations and events.
CEAA's first officers were Frank Thompson, president; Wally Faber, vice president; Helen Pierson, secretary; and Bob Stephenson, treasurer. Other members of the original board included Tom Adelsperger, Henry Alexander, Julia Bennett, Jack Blackwell, Bob Craycraft Sr., Nancy Gardner, Virginia Hale, Clara Belle Hall, Cornelius Hardebeck, George Kendall, Ruth Moeller, Charles Moyer, Ernie Nelson, Bob Pawlowsky, Sing Poynter, Cliff Rekers, Bob Schaney, Charles Sibert, William Thompson, Tom Wells, Vernon Wilhelm and Ed Wolff.
The pages of CHIPS during the 1947 calendar year give an idea of the scope of mill activities. There were nine teams in the mill basketball league, plus a Champion Green Wave team competing in the Hamilton Shop League and a women's team in a YWCA league. Playing for Coach Garland Munz on the 1957-48 Green Wave were Chuck Hacker, George Young, Ed Simpson, Bob Dallmer, Irvin Carberry, Sing Poynter, Wad Fannin, Steve Hollin, Frank Turner, Bob Singleton and Frank Miller. Coach Sing Poynter's Wavettes were Dottie Riggle, Roberta Wilhelm, Mary Ann Packer, Naomi Jones, Pearle Steele, Lorraine House, Mary Miller, Peg Stricker, Doris Marshall and Helen Kemp. Champions also participated in numerous mill bowling leagues and bowling tournaments with about 50 men, women and mixed teams competing at several local alleys.
In the summer there were eight teams in a mill softball league, plus the Green Wave and Wavettes in city leagues; golf leagues for men and women; a Champion Tennis Club; a Chapaco Junior Rifle Club; and Champion trap shoot tournaments at the Hamilton Gun Club.
Champions also could participate in the Champion Boat Club; the Champion Camera Club; the Noon Knitters (also known as the Knit-Wits); the Investment Associates; and the Champion Men's Bridge Club; or attend a Champion girls card party; a pinochle tournament; bingo nights; dancing classes; dances sponsored by several groups; a charm school, a hayride and exercise and swim classes sponsored by the Girls' Social Council; or enter the Lady Champion competition. They also could enjoy many picnics and holiday parties.
In 1947, there were bus trips to the Shrine Circus in Cincinnati, Reds baseball games in Cincinnati, a Browns professional football game in Cleveland, Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati, opera at the Cincinnati Zoo, a professional hockey game in Indianapolis, LeSourdsville Lake, a Champion Fisherman's Day at Celina, a play at the Cox Theater in Cincinnati, a Hamilton High School football game in Springfield, ice shows in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, the Smoky Mountains, Detroit and Canada. There were special trains from the B&O depot in Hamilton to the Champion Family Picnic at LeSourdsville, which was attended by 2,276 employees and family members.
Annual dinner meetings also were popular in 1947. There were 375 employees with 25 years of more of service and guests at the Champion Old Timers banquet; more than 200 employees with 20 to 25 years of service at the Score Club barbecue; more than 250 attending the annual all-sports dinner; and 166 receiving certificates at the Champion vocational training dinner.
In 1955, CEAA reported 2,384 Champions participating in a sport or activity, and 143 teams.
One of the earliest employee groups in the Hamilton mill was the Mutual Aid Society, formed in 1903. According to a 1933 report in Champion Activities, membership was voluntary and dues were 35 cents a month, paid through payroll deduction. The article said benefits were "$2.50 for the first week of illness or incapacity because of accident outside the mill; $1 per day or $7 a week thereafter for 12 weeks, in any one year. The death benefit is $75 for the first year of membership and $150 after one year." Officers and board members then were Homer Ferguson, Sam Collier, Edward Ludeke, Charles Stephens, Clifford Cooper, Jack Reedy, Hubert Farmer, Esther Miller and Carrie Doellman.
Some of the same employees were leading the MAS in 1945 when dues remained 35 cents a month. Sam Collier was president; Ed Ludeke, secretary; Charles Stephens, vice president; Stella Wellinghoff, Caroline Doellman, Ray Dare, Delbert Griffin, Cliff Cooper and Lester McIntyre, directors. "The election marked the 32nd time that Charlie Stephens has been elected treasurer," said CHIPS. "He first assumed the duties of that office in 1913. It also marked the 31st year that Edward Ludeke has been secretary, and the 31st time that Sam Collier has been an officer."
"Join the Fleet Foot Tribe and see Butler County" was their slogan as about 20 women from the Champion offices formed a hiking club in July 1931 under the leadership of Marjorie Green, heap big chief; Connie Trownsell, wampum collector; and Freddy Williams, great keeper of records. Marie Elliott and Connie Trownsell were credited with suggesting the name.
The Fleet Foot Tribe was called "the oldest organization by name in Champion" in a 1946 Log article recounting its 15-year history. The group celebrated the anniversary with an early morning hike from the Hamilton mill to a roadside park near Seven Mile and, later, a cocktail party in Hamilton before taking a chartered bus to Lebanon for dinner at the Golden Lamb. In 1956 the tribe observed its 25th anniversary with a walk from the mill to Thomson Park.
Original members, according to the 1946 report, were Ruth Buechner Gray, Ann Connaughton Jennings, Thelma Clark, Ann Yater, Mary Daugherty Kadle, Jeanette DeiMar Dahlman, Marie Elliott, Marjorie Green, Ida Mae Hamilton, Naomi Hinkel Kolstedt, Sophia Kunker Reed, Betty Leibrock, Violet Morrow Waite, Blanche Newman, Stella Perrine, Marie Robinson Ledford, Kay Sheafer Kurry, Fay Taylor, Nancy Taylor Gardner, Connie Trownsell, Freddy Williams Robinson and Nora Willoughby Sexton.
The report said "the first hike that took the tribe out of the tenderfoot class was a trip up Headgates way, with corn in the shuck and rolled in clay mud, baked in an open fire. There's a lot of remembering to do on all of the hikes, for on one occasion the girls had to dig the snow away while on top of Eaton Road Hill so they could build one fire. Remember too the hike which followed a trail made by red railroad flares. Remember also the hike past the airport and the girls who took a midnight airplane ride. Remember the hike across country and the cloudburst, and the hike to count fence pickets and mail boxes, and the Saturday afternoon hikes to Sunnydale and Middletown, and the famous party at Walter Benton's home. And the trips to Old Timbers, Clifty Falls, Spring Mills, McCormick Creek, Maple Leaf Farm, Butler Park, Ky., and Chautauqua."
By its 20th year, Ruth Raquet, a member of the tribe, said "a conservative estimate placed the number of girl-miles hiked in 20 years at something like 18,000 miles."
But the Fleet Foot Tribe was more than hiking. Its members participated in mill activities, including marching in the NRA parade, ushering at Champion plays, collecting food and clothing for the needy, distributing Christmas trees and baskets to the needy, conducting paper drives and raising money for worthwhile causes through rummage sales, card parties, Christmas card sales, and cookie and candy sales.
The Fleet Foot Tribe also contributed valuable service during World War II. In 1942 members were meeting for three hours weekly at a Red Cross center to prepare surgical dressings according to army specifications. Julia Glins Bennett supervised the group and Ellen Jean Sirk and Freddy Robinson were monitors. Later in the war, periodic trips were made to a hospital at Patterson Field, near Dayton, to visit wounded servicemen. The Tribe held dances and parties at the hospital and collected gifts and cigarettes for the convalescents. "One thing greatly needed by the boys is cigarettes," said an appeal in CHIPS in 1945, "and the Fleet Foot Tribe is hereby making an appeal to non-smokers for their Champion cigarette coupons to be used to purchase cigarettes to take to the patients at Patterson Field."
The Fleet Foot Tribe continued to meet in 1993. "There are seven of us left, and we meet every two weeks," said Carol Hardebeck. "It used to be that names were drawn in pairs, and those two planned a hike and cooked a meal. We don't hike anymore and no one cooks anymore," she explained. "Instead, now we go out to a restaurant, usually for lunch." The group has a reunion every five years and the 60th anniversary in 1991 drew about 35 to 40 people, said Hardebeck, a secretary in the technical department in the mill and in research and benefits at Knightsbridge from 1951 until 1992.
The Champion Service Association was formed in 1940 to reduce the number of money solicitations and collections. Within 10 years, 95 percent of employees in the mill and offices were CSA members. At the start, the membership fee was 10 cents a week, collected through payroll deduction. Over the years its collections have been distributed to many service agencies and humanitarian causes, ranging from the United Way, the YMCA and the Red Cross to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and the American Cancer Society.
Some CSA funds also bring benefits directly to Champion employees, said Nancy Gover, a member of its board since 1963. "Any employee who's off sick for four weeks, we start helping them with groceries, or utility bills, until they can get back to work," she explained. "We also have equipment they can borrow, including crutches, wheelchairs and other aids."
Other CSA programs have included flowers for deceased members and their families, and "Christmas in Every Champion Home," which delivered baskets to the families of employees who would not otherwise have much of a Christmas.
One of the most popular employee services has been Thomson Park, which originated as a scout camp at the behest of Alexander Thomson, then chairman of the board. "He had a great liking for young people and especially for boys and girls of early teen age. He knew the benefit to them of proper supervision outside the fine home training most of them received, and the rich heritage which the community would enjoy through their living," said Champion Activities upon his death in 1939. "It was with this idea in mind that he approved the building of the Champion camp and the many events which do so much to promote the well-being of the sons and daughters of Champions."
In the summer of 1936, members of the first Champion-sponsored Boy Scout troops -- under the direction of Clarke Marion, plant manager, and Cal Skillman, supervisor of employee activities -- transformed six acres of leased farm land into a rustic tract, including a lodge and an entrance sign proclaiming it the Champion Boy Scout Camp. Later that year, volunteers completed a council ring, a bridge across Pigeon Canyon, and in front of the lodge a stone bell tower, the latter the work of Orville Willsey, the first caretaker for the layout which was named Camp Chapaco. Besides Skillman, those involved in starting its programs were George Munro, Noel Samuels, Tom Adelspurger, Harry Neal, Lorel Hapner, Merle Jonson, Merle Baker, Paul Cook, Jim Cozad, Gene Campbell and Ernie Nelson.
"At that time, we swam in the creek. I was life-saving instructor for five years," said Samuels, who was relieved of his regular duties in the mill to work at the camp during those summers. "We also had basketball, baseball and a lot of hiking, and we did our own cooking," recalled Samuels, who was active with Champion scouts until he entered World War II in 1942.
About 450 people attended as that camp was dedicated July 4, 1937. "The biggest news of the month has been the establishment of our scout camp out on the Darrtown Road," reported Otto Kersteiner in Champion Activities in July 1937. "Although the camp is only in the building stage, our scouts have been holding their regular meetings there for the past three weeks." The scouts, ages 12 to 16, also were helping to build and maintain the camp. Another article said "it is difficult to properly describe the grounds except to say that these six and one-half acres are ideal for a camp. Plenty of trees where trees are desired, level place and ravines where they can be enjoyed." Facilities included a 24 by 70-foot dining hall, with a 10x24 porch separating it from the 15x25 kitchen, which was equipped with Hamilton-made Estate electric stoves. On the grounds were 12 new tents, each 10 by 12 feet, on wood platforms 12 inches above the ground. In each tent there were four metal cots with springs.
Beginning in 1938, Camp Chapaco's July-August program was directed by James Grimm, then a physical education teacher at Wilson Jr. High School in Hamilton. That summer the daily schedule began with reveille and cold showers at 7 a.m. and concluded with "Taps" at 9:30 p.m.
By 1940, Girl Scouts also were using the camp under the supervision of Miss Stella Perrine who was assisted by Mrs. Mildred Shireman, Beulah White, Josephine White and Mrs. Betty Skillman. That season was termed "the most successful in history" with 1,800 camper days, including 846 for boys and 954 for girls, a 31 percent increase over 1939. The camp expanded to about 30 acres in 1941 and its facilities included a mess hall, kitchen, craft building, hospital building, shower building, camp director's quarters, cooks quarters, pump house, a main council ring and five tribal council rings, outdoor chapel, running track and an outdoor gym. Campers still slept in tents, but that didn't discourage attendance which jumped to 30,000 camper days that summer. In 1941, the camp also was available for other youth activities and for employee picnics, dinners and parties. In 1943, World War II rationing -- including limitations on food, gas and tires -- forced cancellation of camping for the remainder of the war.
At the war's end, Camp Chapaco was operated by the industrial relations department under the guidance of the Champion Employees Activities Association.
Starting in 1947, and continuing for about 10 years, the camp was occupied for a week by the Hamilton High School football team. Youth programs resumed after the war and continued until 1950 when it was announced that "starting this year, the camping program is for employees and members of their families, because it was felt there was a lack of family camping opportunities, while ample children's camping facilities are available in the community." The same announcement said "there are eight cottages available and they rent for a small fee per week; the fee is pro-rated for one or more days, and a maximum of one week is allowed per family group. Cooking and refrigeration units are provided."
There also were other changes in the post-war period. After short-term leases on the land for about 12 years, Champion purchased the property Dec. 17, 1947, acquiring about 19.5 acres from Alfred McVicker and 11.5 acres from George and Louise Weckerle.
Two years later, the complex was renamed Thomson Park in honor of Champion's founding family.
In 1949 it had been expanded to 39 acres, and in 1955 it had grown to 52.5 acres under the direction of Vernon Wilhelm. A 60 by 160-foot open-sided pavilion, capable of serving about 1,200 people, was dedicated Aug. 13, 1953.
A Small Fry Baseball program was launched in the summer of 1956, and by its third season it had 250 participants, age 15 and under, on 15 teams coached by Champion employees.
In recent decades, Thomson Park also has been a softball center, hosting various local, state, regional and national tournaments. In 1964, R. O. Stephenson, vice president of the Ohio Division, announced that company funds would supplement those from the Champion Employees Activities Association and the Champion Service Association to finance installation of lights on the lower-level diamond. The lighted field was dedicated June 6, 1964.
More than 100 people participated in the first Champion Hobby Show Feb. 11-13, 1938, under the direction of Con Brugman. Because of its success, the 1939 event -- headed by Henry Nipper -- was extended to four days. John Howell, Carl Lee and Lendel Hubbard chaired the four-day 1940 show, which was postponed until a larger site could be found (at least 7,500 square feet). It was finally held in July at the Butler County Fairgrounds. A year later, more than 10,000 people attended the fourth annual hobby show.
Charley Stanley's displays captured extra attention at the shows. In 1940, for example, the coating mill watchmen showed miniature submarines, a torpedo, diving bell, diving hood, trench periscope and a dirigible.
Stanley's hobbies drew more than local interest on the eve of World War II. In May 1939, he testified before the House Military Committee and huddled with the secretary of the navy, explaining some of the inventions he crafted at his residence on Williams Avenue.
Stanley -- who had served on one of only three U. S. submarines in service in 1898 during the Spanish-American War -- held more than 25 patents on submarine and aircraft construction.
Meanwhile, other Champions took to the stage in the 1930s. More than 100 employees participated, as performers and behind the scenes, in six nights of "Step This Way" in 1936. The cast included George Ferguson, Julia Glins, Edna Newman, James Schneider, Dorothy Baerman, Elvy House, Mead Bradner and Marshall Jones.
The fourth edition of "Champion Frolics" in 1938 required a cast of 114 to present "Chain Lightning" to four capacity audiences at the Hamilton High School auditorium.
In 1950, under CEAA sponsorship, "Musically Yours," an all-Champion revue, was presented for four nights, including a magic act by Tommie (Rajah) Keppler.
One of the most informal and loosely-organized groups at the Hamilton mill traced its roots to conversations over coffee and doughnuts in the cafeteria. Charter members of the Champion Hot Stove League were Andy Buck, Roy Allen, Justice Clark, Ken Swing and Bill Thompson.
When the baseball season ends, said Thompson, "it is being thrashed out ever so thoroughly by members of the Hot Stove League." He said anyone could become a member "by simply pulling up a chair and joining in the chatter. No dues. No fines. No prizes," explained Thompson, who said the Champion group started on "a cold, blustery February afternoon in 1949."
In the winter of 1953, the group met around a real hot stove in a workshop in Darrtown. Their host was a minor league manager (Montreal in the International League), then known to only the most devout baseball fans.
When the Champion HSL was invited back in 1954, the host had been elevated to manage a National League team on a one-year contract. Thirty-three Champions discussed baseball with Walter (Smokey) Alston for four hours that day.
For several years thereafter, the future Hall of Fame manager renewed the invitation to the Champion Hot Stove League, and during most of those sessions Alston related his experiences in winning pennants and the World Series as manager of the Dodgers, first in Brooklyn and later in Los Angeles.
It was called a picnic "the like of which has never been seen in all of the history of Butler County" when the first one was held Saturday, Aug. 25, 1934. It was the Champion Family Picnic at LeSourdsville Lake (now Americana), north of Hamilton. More than 17,000 employees and family members attended in that inaugural year, many of them taking advantage of the seven-car special train which made several trips between the Baltimore & Ohio depot in Hamilton and the park. Paul (Boots) Grathwohl was general chairman of the all-day event which included everything from horseshoe pitching contests and swimming races to a tug-of-war and a greased pig contest.
By 1937, the fourth year, attendance hit 23,000 and the picnic maintained its popularity until the austerity of World War II forced cancellation in 1942. With peace, it resumed in 1946 with 22,162 people attending, and the 1951 and 1952 events topped 30,000 and 32,000, respectively.
An added highlight of the post-war picnics was the crowning of Lady Champion, starting with Ethel Linck Doane in 1946, followed by Naomi Jones Witt ,1947; Jeanne Withrow Connelly, 1948; Pat Newman McGregor, 1949; Mary Ann Menzer, 1950; Lois Albright, 1951; Betty Coggeshall Lauer, 1952; Dottie Smith, 1953; Lillian Ring, 1954; Ruth Combs, 1955; Pat Blakley Wessel, 1956; Janet Wimmer McKinney, 1957; Betty Howard McCalla, 1958; Bea Arnett Rice, 1959; Jeri Steele, 1960; Judy Hammons, 1961; and Norma Johns, 1962.
A modest $220 launched Chaco, the Hamilton Champion credit union, thanks to its 22 incorporators, who each bought $10 worth of stock. It began when Ernie Nelson, Constand Brugman, Gordon Bennett, Bob Craycraft Sr. and Lillian Downey asked Clarke Marion, mill manager, if anything could be done to help employees encountering sudden financial needs. After a report on the four-year-old credit union at the Canton, N. C., mill, a Hamilton organization was incorporated April 6, 1938, and opened for business 22 days later.
Chaco incorporators were Bennett, Brugman, Craycraft, Downey, Nelson, Marion, Clinton Dunlap, John Howell, Walter Getz, Hansford Landrum, Henry Nipper, Claude Peak, Norman Coombs, Ted Ketchum, Ken Faist, Tom Jacobi, Cal Skillman, Isabel Moore, Bob Chambers, Charlie Moyer, John Halderman and Chester Mannion.
"The object of the credit union," announced Champion Activities in 1938, "is to provide Champions with a convenient place where they can save money each pay day; and in emergency, where they can obtain loans at reasonable interest."
Only 112 loans, totaling $4,398.76, were granted in its first year, but two years later it surpassed $19,500. Chaco assets reached $1 million 13 years later in June 1951.
By its 50th year in 1988, the 14,000-member $50-million credit union was the 10th largest in Ohio and second in Butler County only to Armco.
In May 1976, Chaco -- which began in a temporary location within the mill -- acquired and demolished the vacated Jackson Elementary School on Park Avenue, and later that year broke ground for its present building.
Millwright: oil and dirt a mark of important job
"A millwright's a man who installs and maintains machinery," said The Log in January 1955 in explaining one of the basic jobs in the Hamilton mill. "A millwright's wife will define him as a man whose work clothes should never be put in an automatic washer for fear of ruining the washer. "
Then there were 87 millwrights, which, the article said, "are a breed of men who, as a unit, know every non-electrical machine in the mill. They put it there, they oil it, and they fix it when something goes wrong."
"It's dirty work, too, this millwright's job," the article continued. "It takes him into nooks and crannies of Champion that most employees never know exist. He crawls in oil and dirt until it becomes a mark of his trade.
"He may work around the clock to complete a job, and he's almost sure to ring in his card on holidays when others are enjoying themselves," the article said. "Above all, they are known as the men to call when there's trouble. A millwright's a man who can fix it."
The mill's pipe gang often difficult to find
"In a paper mill, and more specifically at Champion's Ohio Division, one of the best means of transportation is a pipe," observed The Log in March 1955.
"It may be a big pipe, a little pipe, a copper pipe or just a plain black pipe, but it will carry liquids and semi-liquids to and from, with little or no attention, and absolutely no recognition -- except from the Pipe Gang."
"Normally, if you set out on foot to find a pipe fitter, you'll have to look high and low, because he's apt to be on top of or underneath something," said the writer. "If he's working on a tank, he could be inside. It's a dirty, tough job, this business of installing, maintaining and repairing pipes, and it requires men who can stand working 24 hours a day occasionally."
The crew in the Hamilton mill used about 100 tons of pipe a year in the mid 1950s, and "a year's supply of black three-quarter-inch pipe alone would stretch for three miles."
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