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Dearmon column: Cannon Mills Loyalty Banquets

By Norris Dearmon
For the Salisbury Post
In 1938, Cannon Mills began honoring its longtime employees with a banquet and prominent speaker. To attend the banquets, the employee had to have worked for the company for at least 25 years. At first the banquets were held at the Mary Ella Hall dining room, which was large enough to seat more than 100 guests. By the 1940s, the group had grown so much, it was necessary to move it to the big gym of the YMCA.
In the early years, the banquets were held in December. Later, October was the chosen month. I suspect it was changed because of so much activity in December. The change was made in the early ’50s.
In our files in the Hinson history room, we have a few of the programs with menu and lists of all of those who had worked the necessary number of years with the company. The first group listed was for 25 years. It was always the longest. The employees of Plant 1 were listed by the mills they worked in. All other plants were listed together. The 35, 45 and 55 years were smaller and listed by names only. In 1938, Mr. J.S. Long was the only one listed with 45 years of service. From that year on, the 45-year group grew larger. In 1952, H.E. Ketchie was the first to be listed for 55 years of service. In 1953, A.L. Brown and Janie Freeze were listed in the 55-year group. Once the person was listed, they were not listed again until they had worked another 10 years. A pin was presented to each person every 10 years of service. A 15-year pin was given by supervisors at their place of employment.
At each banquet, Christmas hymns were sung and a soloist usually was featured. Those who had died during the past year were recognized. Following the invocation and dinner, Mr. Cannon gave a report on the company with a “bit of shop talk.” He also gave information on some local issues often concerning the schools and a few humorous stories. He would always introduce the speaker. At the end of the guest speakers’ remarks, he would present them with a large towel set.
In 1940, the speaker was Governor Huey. The state government was aware of the effort Mr. Cannon had made in keeping North Carolina out of bankruptcy in the early ’30s. They were always very cooperative.As the years rolled by, the number of long-term workers grew larger and larger. Soon after Mr. Cannon’s death in 1971, the banquets were canceled. The company began giving pins at the main office for those reaching the highest level of employment. Pictures were taken and published in the Cannon News. Others received theirs from supervisors at their work place. Longtime employees who retired received pins with the number of years engraved on the pin. Those past 45 years received a watch in addition to the pin. The 55-years pins had a diamond mounted in the center of the pin. As the plant changed ownership, other changes were made.
In 1956, the retired employees organized an Employee Retired Club. They always met at the YMCA at Christmastime with a meal served compliments of the company. Most of the time, Mr. Cannon was there and participated in the program. Mr. G.B. “Buck” Brandon was the prime mover in organizing the group.

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