Family Recalls History of Sugar Refinery

Published: Feb. 13, 2008 at 10:13 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 13, 2008 at 10:49 PM EST
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The Simoneauxs and their niece, Joann Reiser.
The Simoneauxs and their niece, Joann Reiser.
The pictures of the damage are hard for George Simoneauxs to look at.
The pictures of the damage are hard for George Simoneauxs to look at.

PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - To so many people, the Imperial Sugar refinery is more than a factory: it's where they grew up, it's part of their family.

The Simoneaux family was one of the first families to move from Louisiana when the plant opened along the Savannah River in 1917. With so much history with the refinery, they are now grieving for the families of those who were killed.

It would be a challenge to find anyone who knows more about the former Dixie Crystals sugar refinery than George Simoneaux. He and his late brother were actually born at the refinery.

"I don't even have a birth certificate I'm so old," said Simoneaux.

The 88-year-old was born three years after the plant opened. Back then it was called Dixie Crystals. Simoneaux worked at the refinery for 31 years. His wife worked at the hotel on the property, and so did his niece Joann Reiser. Several other families members have worked there too over the years.

"I felt like I was part of it all my life," said Simoneaux.

He retired as an assistant superintendent of Dixie Crystals. He played on the baseball team, even lived on plant property. He said it was his home and the other workers were his family.

Simoneaux can recall countless stories. The refinery is the source of many happy memories.

"It was fun because everybody felt like family," said Reiser.

The Simoneauxs now live just a few blocks away in Port Wentworth. They were home Thursday evening when the refinery went up in flames.

"It was really like losing a member of the family," George Simoneaux said.

The pictures of the damage are hard for him to look at. "It looks terrible. Even the concrete floors caved in," he said.

His niece Joann is still shaken by the images and the stories she's heard from families whose loved ones were hurt or killed. "You still can't believe it. I relate it a little bit to 9/11 and the devastation they had in New York I guess," she said. "You can't imagine until you live through something like that, and I know people who were actually there."

Good, hardworking people.

"Port Wentworth, I guess to the rest of the nation, and Dixie Crystals, seems like a sleepy little town up until now," she said.

The Simoneauxs said they will forever call this town and that plant home, and it will always be a huge part of their family.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter,