Obama’s middle class message to revive Maytag memories

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Galesburg is getting ready for a presidential visit on Wednesday, July 24. That's when President Barack Obama will speak about the economy at Knox College.

Rattling keys at the former Maytag plant is a sound that renews past shock for Karen Kistler.

"We didn't think it would happen," she recalled.

Kistler was the last Maytag employee out the door when the Galesburg plant closed in 2004.

"The day it happened, it was like, I can't do this," she said.

Hustle and bustle from the factory floor is just a faded memory. The huge building is empty these days. It's a reminder of what used to be: a middle class lifestyle that disappeared with the closure.

"It certainly set Galesburg on its ear when they closed everything," she said.

Interest is measured in Monday's long line for tickets to the event. Hundreds of folks are hoping to see President Obama in Galesburg. They formed a kinship with him long before he became president. They each know that this economy remains a work in progress.

Just ask Bill Fair. He spent 38 years at the defunct Butler Manufacturing plant in Galesburg.

"You can't support a city with antique shops, banks and gas stations," he said. "It just doesn't happen."

Galesburg is emerging from that past. It's working hard to beautify and build. That's sending a positive message to new developers and existing businesses.

But others had to move to reinvent themselves. That's the case with 15-year Maytag employee Joanne Sandy.

"People I worked with were competing for jobs at McDonald's and the gas stations, even though they had a college degree," she said.

The vacant Maytag plant remains on the market. It could be an eyesore or opportunity. Karen Kistler sees possibilities.

"We just have to continue moving forward," she concluded. "We can't get lost in what happened in the past because we can't do anything about this."

From the weeds, there's a message about the middle class before President Obama's speech in Galesburg.

Related:  Watch what Senator Barack Obama said about the economy and the importance of manufacturing jobs in 2005