LOMPOC 77As Lompoc/s Grefco plant site becomes scrap metal, nearly five decades of history will pass from the valley.
"They/re taking it down pretty quick," said Ken Kurz, a Lompoc resident for more than 40 years as he recently watched a crane dismantle the smokestack. "I spent most of my life there."
Kurz worked at the plant for 35 years doing nearly every job before becoming the plant superintendent 77 a position he held until the plant closed in September 1998.
He shared decades worth of working days and his time off with local people who, like him, committed themselves to processing diatomaceous earth.
"We spent our life there, a lot of us, for over 30 years," he said. "We talk a lot about it. We went in right out of school."
Today/s young generations may find themselves witnessing the beginning of a new atmosphere in Lompoc. The Fess Parker wine-crushing and tasting facility appears to be a probable replacement for the plant 77 possibly transforming what was once metal and smoke into an attractive tourist haven of wine and cheese.
"There is no sense for it to be just sitting there rusting," said Kurz of replacing the plant with a wine facility.
Kurz now works for the Celite Corporation as a relief janitor. He was one of about a dozen people hired at Celite when Grefco closed down amid increased environmental scrutiny over emissions.
At one time, more than 100 people were employed at Grefco, said Kurz. About 50 remained before it closed, he said.
When Fess Parker came to Lompoc late last year, Kurz showed the actor-turned-vintner around the plant because he knew every nook and cranny.
Kurz/s time at Grefco meant more than employment. He met his wife, Sandy, during those years. Sandy Kurz was the daughter of Ken Kurz/s boss, and together they have raised two sons.
Grefco and family also mixed for 67-year-old Bill Rule, who worked for more than 40 years at the plant.
Rule/s father was one of the first to be hired there. Fresh out of high school, Rule got a job there, too, and for his first three years worked side-by-side with his dad.
"Oh, it was different," he laughed. "We kept up the plant. We did maintenance work all around it.
"I started at 18 years old and went through a lot of the jobs."