Retiree Spotlight

Meet Joe Stilwell

When The Upjohn Company decided to hire maintenance employees in 1968, Joe Stilwell accepted the offer. After all, he had already worked at the Upjohn Polymer Chemical Plant, in La Porte, TX, as an Instrument Technician for about six years with a contractor that supplied instrument and electrical technicians to refining and chemical plants.

Before joining Upjohn, Joe was the Superintendent for Instrument & Electrical (I&E), Maintenance and Construction. He used to troubleshoot problems with suspect instruments that were used to measure process flow, pressure, temperature and level. Those that were not functioning properly were removed from service, repaired, calibrated and reinstalled in the process unit.

Joe gave up his supervisor job with the contractor when he joined Upjohn and started working as a technician again. “The pay was not as good but the benefits package was second to none,” said Joe. “And for me with a wife and four sons to feed, clothe and educate - benefits are money.”

Joe was promoted several times, ultimately to I & E Maintenance Supervisor. At times the air conditioning and refrigeration and millwrights worked for him, as well. Joe remained in that position until Upjohn sold the Polymer Chemical Division to Dow Chemical in August of 1985.

At that time, Joe was eligible for full retirement but he did not want to retire yet, and Dow didn’t want him to leave either. So, instead he moved from Maintenance to the Electrical Engineering Department where he developed electrical safety one line diagrams for the site. This required a lot of time to verify accuracy before issuing.

He also worked with Dow Engineering & Construction Services to revamp the electrical distribution system for the site and worked as an inspector during the construction phase. When that was completed, he was transferred back to Maintenance with responsibility for Safety and Industrial Hygiene for not only the Maintenance group but all Contractors working in the plant as well. He retired from Dow in March 1992.

“The time I spent with Upjohn was almost unbelievable,” recalls Joe. Upjohn began upgrading the existing La Porte facilities and constructing new units right after purchasing that site. “While I was still employed by a contractor, I worked with a Contractor in the design of not only instrument type to be used but also installation,” notes Joe.

Joe told us that one of the things he liked most was that Upjohn was people oriented. “They gave me the ability to make decisions that could impact the unit operation,” said Joe. “In many ways they exhibited a faith in me to do the right thing.”

Joe shared one special memory, “In the early 1970's Upjohn agreed to license a Polymer Plant to be built in what was then East Germany. It was to be constructed by Litwin (a construction company) and the agreement was for Upjohn to supply start-up personnel. After over a year of trying to get the plant started without positive results, I was one of 12 employees asked to get the plant up. It was not easy at that time, but we did succeed having spent almost three months in that uneasy environment.”

Joe keeps in touch with some of his former co-workers by email and when he runs into them in town. Joe noted that, “When Dow purchased the site they gave each former Upjohn employee a special ID number and they all started with 237. So the retired 237's have a reunion each year and I think we had about 70 in attendance this year.”

What Joe likes best about being retired is that it has given him the opportunity to do things in and for the community that were not possible before. “I am 79 and still very active,” stated Joe. He lives in the City of Nassau Bay and is beginning his 5th year as a member of City Council – an elected position. He is very active in the Kiwanis organization, both locally and at the Texas/Oklahoma District level. He is President - elect of the Past Lt. Governors Association and will become President officially at the District Convention in August.

After the death of his wife in 1993, Joe remarried in 1997. He and Maryann love to travel. While they prefer cruising, they visit relatives in North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama as often as they can. Joe remarked, “I have been very fortunate. I have been in every state in the U.S. and about 15 foreign countries.”

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