Local manufacturing plant Yamaha is saying goodbye after almost 28 years in the Thomaston community.
Yamaha President Shinichi Minatodani held a special presentation Friday, donating the last piano ever manufactured at the Thomaston facility to the Thomaston-Upson Recreation Department, along with a set of speakers.
“This is our thank you to the community,” Minatodani said. “We have a very strong appreciation for the City of Thomaston. We want everyone to enjoy this piano.”
News came of Yamaha's closing and 187 employees'losing their jobs in early February. Yamaha is making an effort to consolidate its musical instrument manufacturing operations in Asia.
The news came as a shock to employees and to members of the community.
Elaine Clark is Yamaha's longest term employee, having started work in February 1980.
“Today is a bittersweet moment,” Clark said at Friday's presentation. “I'm honored to have worked here so long. When I first started, I knew it would work out.
“Yamaha has been very good to me. When I first heard, I was shocked, and, of course, I cried. But it's gotten better. It will continue to get better.
“It is scary to get back out there and find another job, but it will be all right.”
She began as an assembler on the electronic organ line and was transferred to piano assembly after discontinuation of organ production.
Clark plans to start Flint River Technical College soon but is not sure what she will study.
“My working days aren't behind me yet,” she said with a little laugh. “I have a few more years before that.”
Eddie Hammock is the only one remaining of the original five hired to tune pianos.
He came to work for Yamaha in 1984 and has the longest term experience making pianos for Yamaha.
“I feel good about leaving,” Hammock said, “but at the same time it is sad because we are all a family. It's tough, but I'm not disappointed. Yamaha had to do what they had to do as a company, and that's understandable.”
Hammock says he will soon start work in Griffin, but will remain an Upson County resident.
According to Ingram Haley, vice president of manufacturing and purchasing, the last day for the majority of employees will be next Thursday, April 5. After that some employees will remain on for as long as three months to help liquidate and close the plant.
Haley, along with General Manager of Administration Johnny Peek, will remain on until the end of September.
Haley has been with Yamaha for 27 years and Peek for 15 years.
Other employees on hand Friday were Piano Engineering Manager Mac Wada, Pro Audio Engineering Manager George Ruff (21 years), Assembly Plant Manager Chris James (27 years), Woodworking Plant Manager Mark Sollenberger (26 years), and Distribution Manager Jim Craft (24 years).
Recreation Director Mindy Daniel said the piano will always be treasured.
“We've had a great relationship with Yamaha, and of course we hate to see them leave,” she said. “I appreciate their thinking of us in this way.
“We will remember you every time we play the piano,” Daniel told Shinichi.
“You've left a wonderful history.”
Haley said Yamaha has had a good life in Thomaston and Upson County.
“It's been a wonderful time for us,” he said. “I've enjoyed working with Yamaha, and I hate to see things end. However, every company has a life time, and ours has ended in Thomaston.”
The piano and speakers were tested out in style by Ruff, who played “Spring Comes Early” by Mark Hayes, and Wada, who played “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel.
Daniel said the piano will continue to be used, especially over the next two weeks. A local church that experienced damage to their sanctuary has rented out the Civic Center for their next two Sunday services.
Shinichi said the P-22 dark oak piano is one of the most popular pianos.
The serial number, 330207, is out of the company's original order in order to symbolize the date of the dedication. A plaque of all current employees, including temporary employees, was placed on the back of the piano.
“We are pleased to donate this special piano and speakers,” he said. “There are no more like this. Our employees put pride and will into making the best, using the highest of skills.
“I and all our staff our proud our piano and speakers can stay in their hometown. Please enjoy.”
Although Yamaha is saying goodbye, their hard work and dedication will remain in the Thomaston-Upson community every time a key is played on the Civic Center's new piano.