Longtime sugar refinery employee recalls tightknit family - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Longtime sugar refinery employee describes worker family

Preston "Pep" Blackwelder, a retired sugar refinery vice president recalled the tightknit worker family at the plant. Preston "Pep" Blackwelder, a retired sugar refinery vice president recalled the tightknit worker family at the plant.

Feb. 7, 2013 marks five years since explosions at the sugar refinery shook the region.

It's a tough anniversary to mark.  

Preston "Pep" Blackwelder, a retired sugar refinery vice president met with WTOC's Sonny Dixon at the Legacy Park  to pay tribute and to recall the tightknit worker family that has made Dixie Crystal sugar on the banks of the Savannah - for the better part of a  century. 

"Back in 1917, they pulled up stakes in Adeline, La., brought the whole family here between three and four-hundred people - came with the company. So it all started then. There was an attachment, a belonging, a loyalty that you don't see in today's world," he described.

Blackwelder grew up in Savannah. 

"We slid down the coal piles on a piece of tin," he recalled. "And you were in and out of everybody's house - and one mama would spank you just as quick as the next mama would."

He went go on to work at the sugar refinery for more than 25 years, retiring as a vice president. 

"It was the place in Savannah that everybody wanted to work - and once they got here you had to pry them out of here with a crowbar - even at retirement age - they just did not want to leave. And I can understand that, you know, being one of them. I love this place," he said.

Blackwelder said that embedded in the place is the spirit of so many - so many remarkable people who made their contributions, worked their days, had their fun and shared their sorrows.

The emotional reach of explosions was farther than anything physically felt or heard.

"Everybody felt this for miles that had ever had any attachment - even contractors that had worked here and had mingled with the people - took that spirit with them when they left.  And so it impacted so many lives," he said. 

He added that in the years since, they tried to re-establish the significance and importance of the people who came and built the legacy at the refinery.    

"Yes, it was a tragedy. And yes we have hearts that feel the loss of these people that were so significantly affected by it. But we don't want to forget the history. We don't want to forget all of the good things, not only that people did individually, but that a corporate family did together," he said. "I don't want that forgotten."  

Legacy Park is just to the left of the guardhouse next to a long line of oaks at the entrance to the sugar refinery. There was a private memorial for sugar refinery family only held there on Thursday.

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