(The following article appeared in the September 19, 2004 South Bend Tribune)
STUDEBAKER'S CHAMPION REFLECTS ON PAST
By JAMES WENSITS
Tribune Political Writer
SOUTH BEND -- The Studebaker Champion long reigned as one of the former automaker's most popular models.
It is doubtful, however, that Studebaker ever had a greater advocate than former U.S. Rep. John Brademas, whose address Sept. 7 at the University of Notre Dame's Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts was aptly titled "Reflections of a Studebaker Champion."
Brademas, who served 11 terms in Congress from 1958 to 1980, was invited to speak at Notre Dame as part of an ongoing series of events and exhibits leading up to Friday's premiere of "Avanti: A Postindustrial Ghost Story," a multimedia presentation about the demise of Studebaker.
The former congressman, now president emeritus at New York University, recalls that 41 years ago, in August 1963, he and then U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., went to the White House to express their concern about the dire situation facing the Studebaker Corp. to then President John F. Kennedy and ask for his help.
In those days before Congress voted bailouts for major corporations such as Penn Central, Chrysler and Lockheed, the president told the Hoosier lawmakers that there was nothing he could do.
A few months later, the young president was dead, killed by an assassin.
In December 1963, the calamity that Bayh and Brademas had feared came to pass: Studebaker announced it was closing, and 6,000 workers lost their jobs.
Again, Brademas, Bayh and Indiana's other U.S. Senator, Vance Hartke, went to the White House, this time for an audience with the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
According to Brademas, Johnson responded magnificently by promising, on Christmas Eve 1963, to help in several ways.
For starters, and even before the actual shutdown took place, the president formed an interdepartmental committee to make sure that government resources were used as effectively as possible to deal with problems resulting from the termination of production.
Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz subsequently was directed to establish in South Bend the maximum number of training projects allowable under the new Manpower Development and Training Act.
On Dec. 28, 1963, a manpower training initiative to retrain a thousand jobless workers was announced.
According to Brademas, nearly 4,000 Studebaker workers were given in-depth interviews and 2,500 were sent to manpower training classes.
Twenty-one projects, including basic education courses, were approved for ex-Studebaker workers, some of whom were functionally illiterate. Some of the workers had never applied for another job. Some needed basic education to help with language problems.
By 1964, Brademas said, a third of all enrollees in manpower training programs in the state of Indiana were taking classes in South Bend.
"It is important to note," Brademas said, that of 5,700 displaced workers, only 536 of them were younger than 40.
Beyond the loss of jobs was the loss of pensions.
According to Brademas, 4,000 Studebaker workers had to settle for an average payment of about $600, 15 percent of what they were entitled to, while 2,900 others received nothing at all.
What happened at Studebaker eventually influenced passage of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act.
Brademas said Johnson also played a role in providing new jobs for South Bend workers by helping to engineer the awarding of an $87 million Army truck contract to Kaiser-Jeep Corp., which agreed to perform the work at the Chippewa Avenue plant it had recently acquired from Studebaker.
Kaiser-Jeep was later purchased by American Motors, which formed a subsidiary, AM General, to continue the manufacture of military vehicles here.
In an odd twist of fate, the legacy of that long-ago effort to maintain manufacturing jobs in South Bend is that AM General, which manufactures Humvee military vehicles as well as its popular sibling, the Hummer H2, is still providing jobs and still contributing to the local economy.
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