Retiree Spotlight

Meet Ernest Lawson

Ernest Lawson is the definition of someone who lives their life to the fullest. Ernest overcame many obstacles in his young life from being a foster child, growing up and working on a farm, to becoming a marine and fully supporting a family while having multiple jobs. He dedicates his life to work hard, constant learning and enjoying the little things in life.

After working a slew of jobs, Ernest connected with a colleague and began working full time at Upjohn in 1958 where he started as a Janitor. He spent his entire Upjohn career at the Kalamazoo, Michigan, complex where he met wonderful people and was given more opportunities than he could imagine.

A World of Opportunity

Ernest standing next to a large display of his antique bottles including many old Upjohn bottles at the downtown Upjohn facility.

While working in various positions at Upjohn, including Driver for the Maintenance Service, Ernest was able to take college and training classes that were provided by the company. He learned new skills, like drawing architectural blueprints, and enhanced his abilities on the job. Ernest quickly impressed management and they moved him into the position of Office Equipment Analyst. “I feel so fortunate to have so many opportunities along the way to start from the position of a janitor and working my way up to Office Equipment Analyst.”

During his time as the Office Equipment Analyst, his favorite project was working on the Bronson Clinical Investigational Unit (BCIU). He organized the office space and selected medical equipment that would be placed throughout the entire floor — an essential task in making sure important work could occur properly and effectively.

Bottling Up the Good Times!

Ernest giving a talk at Friendship Village about his antique bottles and metal detecting hobbies.

Outside of working at Upjohn, Ernest spent a lot of time with many of his hobbies like collecting antique bottles, metal detecting, singing and writing. Ernest and his best friend, Jack, would go out digging for bottles at old construction sites where they would find many items, but mainly collected the bottles. Ernest and Jack continued digging for years and started the Kalamazoo Antique Bottle Club where they would discuss their findings and share stories with other club members. After Ernest had a stroke in the late 80s, he stopped his digging and began focusing on metal detecting as well as singing and writing. Ernest and his daughter Pat would visit other retirement homes where they would sing religious and “oldies” songs to and with others. “I have enjoyed volunteering in many capacities including singalongs with my daughter Pat at various retirement facilities, visiting ill friends and acquaintances,” said Ernest. “Also going to church and church related activities.”

Although Ernest already loved to write, part of his therapy in recovering from his stroke was Reminiscence writing. The classes influenced him to write a book entitled, “Writings About My Life, My Family and My Friends.” “Over the years, I have enjoyed writing about my life and any subject that is interesting to me,” said Ernest. His book is a collection of short stories about his adventurous life, his thoughts and people who have impacted his life including his family, his wife, Irene, his children and grandchildren, his brother-in-law, Vern, his wife’s family and his best friend, Jack. Ernest continues to participate in and has even taught Reminiscence Writing courses. While he no longer writes like he used to, Ernest is able to enjoy his book and sharing his stories with others. He keeps extra copies with him so he can pass them out to friends and family, and anyone he meets who wants to hear more on his stories.

Ernest now resides in the Friendship Village Retirement facility in Kalamazoo where he enjoys spending time with his wife. “It’s a wonderful place full of interesting people, activities, and a plethora of entertainment.” Ernest said. “There are many Upjohn employees who reside at Friendship Village.”

Ernest is an example of someone who started off with nothing and turned his life into an extraordinary story, or multiple stories in his case. And although Ernest cannot go digging for bottles or metal detecting anymore, he spends a lot of his time telling stories to other residents of Friendship Village about his bottles, metal detecting and telling them everything he enjoyed in his professional life and about his hobbies.

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