Ten years ago, Eagle Food Center worked together to create customer satisfaction, then wept over the loss of their jobs and finally said goodbye to a company they had loved.
They still consider each other as family, so it's small wonder that Sunday's picnic reunion at Indian Bluff Forest Preserve in Milan had a family atmosphere that ranged from laughter to tears. Old friends gathered to catch up and reminisce about the Quad-City-based Midwest grocery store chain that closed in 2003.
Employees from various departments and positions were delighted to see each other and enjoy a picnic and golf outing.
“It’s a chance to get together and catch up,” said Dave Miller, now a family service counselor at Dignity Memorial Funeral Homes, Davenport. Miller, a former bakery director, left the Eagle company about seven years before it closed. Others at the picnic, he said, “were there at the bitter end.”
That bitter end — the beginning of the closure of Eagle stores — brings tears to the eyes of former employees who still grieve at the thought of losing their jobs.
Al Larson, of Rock Island, remembers that his last day in the advertising department at Eagle was “Pearl Harbor Day, 1993. We were the beginning of the end,” he said. “On Dec. 7, they called us into the cafeteria and told us we were done. While that was happening, the department heads were telling everyone else. My wife worked in the meat department, and she freaked.”
Larson remembers that the employees were told to collect their belongings in boxes that had been placed beside their desks, “and they had security watching us.” His eyes moistened as he remembered.
Larson had a job the next day at Graphic Image, Davenport. “Eagle was our client,” he said. He then went to Brandt Co., where he has worked for 16 years.
“I’ve never been unemployed since 1974,” he said. “I started working at Eagle when I was 16.”
Joanne Larson, Al Larson's wife, was a buyer’s clerk in the meat department at Eagle. “There were 11 of us in August of ’95 who got it that day,” she said. “All spectrums, all ages, all different numbers of years of service. It was all-encompassing. Everybody was blind-sided.”
Now a visitors’ associate at The Putnam Museum, Davenport, Larson worked part-time at Younkers until her unemployment ran out, then Younkers hired her full-time.
“We all knew it was coming,” said Roxie McKamey, of Bettendorf. “I just didn’t know the date.”
She worked in several facets of the company during her years at Eagle. “I miss all my friends,” McKamey said. “It was a good place to work …. I love all these guys. We all took care of each other.”
She remembers that each department “adopted” an Eagle family who needed some financial assistance during the holidays. She, too, attended college, and graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average with an associate's degree from Scott Community College. She is unable to work now because of her health.
"A lot of us did that (returned to school)," said Carol Yodts, who now works for Avadyne Health in Moline. She was out of work for six months before she finished her associate's degree at Black Hawk College.
Joyce Ford, of Rock Island, was a floater in the warehouse accounting department. “There was so much vacation in the department I never lacked for anything to do,” she said. “I had only been there 16 years, compared to people who had been there 25 and 30 years.”
Now she works in the customer service department at Carlin Automation in Rock Island, where she has been employed for more than nine years.
The first picnic was held six years ago, said Janine Moffitt, of Rock Island, who organized the event with Yodts and Nancy Harris, both of Rock Island. “Once a month, there’s a group of us girls that still get together for lunch,” Moffitt said. The smaller group thought it would be nice to include other former Eagle employees, and that’s how the first picnic was developed.
At the picnics, “We have a really good time,” Harris said. “We’re all from different departments. It was a big family. I would go back today if I could,” said Harris, who was a buyer’s clerk in the grocery department.
Moffitt, who was with Eagle for 33 years, worked in marketing support with “the saver’s card and promotions,” she said. “They didn’t let everybody go at the same time,” she said.
“There was like nine of us that got let go at once,” Harris said. All nine were called into a room where administrators told them they had lost their jobs. “We had to go back to our desks and get our purses … it was awful,” she remembered. “We were crying.”
Moffitt, who now works for the Rock Island County Clerk’s office, said a group of former employees began meeting once a week for lunch, asking others who joined the group, “Have you heard anything?” When she first was offered what became her new position, she shared the good news with her lunch group. “One of the girls said, ‘How much does it pay?’ And I said I didn’t know. All I cared about was that I had a job with benefits.”