A Halloween Tradition and the Devastating Hurricane That Started It
Every year employees at the corporate office in Roswell, Georgia go all out dressing up for Halloween. Everyone participates, and some departments even coordinate group costumes. The tradition has evolved into a bit of a competition, with the purchasing department being the group to beat when it comes to best costumes.
“We have a really cool one coming up this year, so everyone will have to wait and hang on to their seats,” says Robin Portera, place product manager for corporate purchasing. “We always do the group photo in the lobby. In previous years we would go around and take a picture with the CEO and the CFO and they would always welcome it. When we walked into their office in all of our costumes, they absolutely loved everybody surrounding the desk to get a photo with them.”
Halloween at the corporate office was not always so lively, however. There was a time where the office was very quiet and subdued. All of that changed, however, when Hurricane Katrina hit a few hundred miles away. The purchasing department was based in New Orleans at the time, and with the destruction of the hurricane, they were forced to relocate. Robin was one of the employees from the New Orleans branch displaced by the storm.
“I remember, it was Friday before the hurricane, and we were all in the New Orleans branch packing up our desks and putting tarps over our computers,” Robin explains. “We were getting ready for the possibility of floods.”
They would never return to the office. The following week Robin and the rest of the department received phone calls asking them to get on the road and head to Roswell, Georgia. Kloeckner Metals needed its purchasing department, and someone had to order the steel.
“It was tough,” Robin says. “You jump in the car, you come to a new state, a new area, and you don’t know anyone. You don’t have a house. You don’t have anything to go back to.”
This was in August. Kloeckner put the employees up at the Homewood Suites located near the corporate office, where they would stay for around six months. Kloeckner was very supportive, both financially and in terms of flexibility. Everyone in the office pitched in to try and help. Still, it was a very difficult time.
“Obviously, you have the personal part of it with your families and trying to get adapted to a new place to live,” Robin says. “On top of that, you come into a new office environment which is a little bit different than working at a branch location. It is quieter and there is more management around you. It was different.”
The displaced employees needed a way to make their new Roswell home their own, and with October coming up they would have their chance. The purchasing department had a tradition of dressing up each year for Halloween in New Orleans, and so they decided to keep it alive.
“I think it was important because all of us at the time were displaced,” Robin says. “We had lost our homes from the flood. It was something that reminded us of home.”
What was once a New Orleans tradition spread throughout the corporate office, embraced by management and the employees already working there. It made the whole office atmosphere more fun and relaxed.
“This kind of eased that tension in the air,” Robin says. “It made everybody feel like, ‘This is our new home and our new office. We can still do the fun things we did at the branch level on Halloween.’”
Now the annual tradition of dressing up for Halloween has become a mainstay at the corporate office in Roswell. The faces have changed over the years, but the tradition continues to grow and evolve. For those who remain from the New Orleans office, though, it means so much more. It harkens back to a difficult time that the Kloeckner family helped them get through. That and it is just plain-old fun.
“You spend more time at work than you do at home, so I think it is really important to have that feeling that you can still be serious and get your work done but still at the same time have fun,” Robin says. “That morning, it is so much fun when you get off the elevator and you can’t wait to see what different departments and people have in store.”
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