Couple among lucky ex-Cooper employees

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- When Cooper Tire officials announced in December 2008 that the company planned to shut down its Albany plant, husband and wife Bob and Pat Karwowski were two of the almost 1,400 employees destined to lose their jobs.

The Karwowskis, both former Marines who came to Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany in 1984, were among the first wave of employees hired at Cooper's Albany plant. Pat Karwowski had 19 years in at the plant and her husband had 18 when they got the news.

"Everybody's situation was unique, but we had a couple of life-changing experiences hit at the time of the closing," Bob Karwowski said. "Both of our kids were finishing college around that time, so we were preparing for the 'empty nest syndrome.' When we got word about our jobs, Pat and I looked at each other and said, 'What do we do now?'

"We had a big house, so we figured with the kids moving out the first thing we'd do is get it ready to sell."

The Karwowskis started sprucing up their home and put their employment futures in the backs of their minds. But fate intervened.

"Pat was closer to retirement than I was, so she basically got a job doing something she loves," Bob Karwowski said. "She loves books, and she got a job at the county's northwest library branch.

"I just kept working on the house, figuring I would end up selling it. When things come at you in life at such speed, you don't really have time to worry."

Six months into the Karwowskis' home improvement campaign, life threw a few more curveballs at them. A friend of Bob who'd worked with him at Cooper told him about a new distribution operation Coats and Clark was planning to open in Albany. Since he'd left Cooper as the plant's distribution manager, the new position was right up his alley.

"I started at Cooper as a tire builder, but my background was in distribution," Karwowski said. "I worked my way up to manager, and the opening at Coats and Clark was for the same position. It was a perfect fit.

"In fact, I've been able to take five or six people who worked with me at Cooper and transition them into the distribution center here. Those folks and the others who were already in the center make up a strong team."

Around the time the Coats and Clark position came open, the Karwowskis discovered their first grandchild was on the way.

"We'd gotten the house all cleaned out and spruced up, so we decided to talk with the kids about selling it," Karwowski said. "My son said something profound to me. He said, 'Home is where you're at, not some physical location.' We'd done all this work to improve our house, which had always been a great place to live, so we decided to keep it.

"I'm very fortunate in that I've taken advantage of opportunities that have been presented to me in my life. For instance, Cooper had an employer-assisted education program, and I used that to get a $60,000 education that put me in position to advance my career. It's like the actor Paul Newman said when someone asked him about actors getting breaks: 'If you put yourself in the best position possible, things tend to work out for you.'"