Oddly enough, a fireworks show will mark the 50th anniversary of the closing of Studebaker operations in South Bend.
“So we’ll have, really a celebration to enter in a new era for the community” said Kevin Smith, who recently purchased “Building 84” which once housed Studebaker manufacturing operations.
On December 20th, 1963 Studebaker shut down its South Bend plants leaving some 7,000 people without work.
Some five decades later, Smith is still trying to cushion the psychological blow to the community. “I think what we did is we lost our ability to believe in ourselves.”
The fact that Studebaker ultimately failed sometimes clouds the fact that the company ran a successful and innovative business for more than 100 years.
“Because you had to have a visionary people that had innovation that became entrepreneurial and they made companies that drew people from all over the world to South Bend and we were the thought leaders in that time,” said Kevin Smith.
Smith wants to use the Studebaker formula to bring in new jobs and new high tech firms to Building 84.
“The name Studebaker was magic,” said former worker Lou Demeter. “The pay was good and the atmosphere was good.”
Jim Montgomery went to work at Studebaker in 1948 and agrees that South Bend was never the same since the company’s departure. “I think the enthusiasm just wore out.”
So this year, on the anniversary of one of South Bend’s darkest days, 16 search lights will shoot beams six miles into the night sky over South Bend, before the festivities end with a fireworks show at Coveleski Stadium.
On the afternoon of December 20th, Smith will also open up Building 84 to members of the public who want to walk on the sixth floor factory floor, look at vintage Studebaker cars, and visit with members of the Studebaker Driver’s Club.
Smith feels it’s time for the community to get over the gloom and celebrate Studebaker for what made it so great—for so long.