100-year Laros legacy
The R. K. Laros Foundation and the Industrial Archives & Library hosted a reception in May at the National Museum of Industrial History to salute Marge Tarola, a longtime Laros Silk Company employee and recent interviewee for the R. K. Laros Oral History Project and to reflect on and to celebrate the 100year Laros legacy in the Bethlehem community.
Others joining the gathering to meet Marge and hear her story were Norman King and Judy Molder, children of much beloved Laros sewing machine mechanic and machinist, Norman King, and David Jones, son of Roland Jones, a former top Laros executive. All have been interviewed as part of the Oral History Project over the past two years.
Accompanying Marge to the event was her daughter, Marjorie Mainhart. Also on hand from The R. K. Laros Foundation were vice chair, Laura Bennett Shelton, who is also secretary of the board of the National Museum of Industrial History, and Laros trustee, Elizabeth Shimer Bowers.
“We thought we would bring together all these people who are really connected through time,” said Sharon Jones Zondag, executive director of The R. K. Laros Foundation, who organized the event.
Marge Tarola began her career with Laros at 50 cents an hour right out of high school in 1946 at the company’s “Learner School,” where she learned to sew. In 1954, Marge became a “zigzag” operator and went on to complete a 20+ year career at Laros and its successor companies, Warner’s and Sure-Fit.
As if it were just yesterday, and with remarkable clarity, Marge regaled the group with story after story about her time at Laros Silk Company and how special it was to work there. One such example was in the late 1950s when Marge was juggling the demands of a young family and her husband’s shift work at Bethlehem Steel. When made aware of Marge’s problem, her supervisor allowed Marge to work a flexible work schedule that allowed her to coordinate with her husband’s shift work and be home with her children after school. “Places just didn’t do that back in those days,” she said. “I get the sense that Mr. Laros was benevolent with the employees,” said David Jones. “Otherwise, he would not have given my dad the latitude to do that for Marge.”
Laros quality was also second-to-none, according to Jones and Tarola. “Laros undergarments were so highly valued that they were sold in all the upscale department stores,” said Mr. Jones. “Whenever you bought a garment form Laros, you knew it was made well and it was done the right way – and almost to perfection,” Tarola added. “I think that’s why he [R. K. Laros] was in business for as long as he was’” she quipped. “It was a very, very good product and we were all proud to be there.”
Launched in March 2017, the R. K. Laros Oral History Project is a collaboration between The R. K. Laros Foundation and the Industrial Archives & Library of Bethlehem, Pa., that is documenting the history and impact of the R. K. Laros Silk Company on the Lehigh Valley community from the perspective of the everyday lives of employees, like Marge, and their families.
The reception was also the first of a series of special events planned for 2019 to mark the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the R. K. Laros Silk Company in 1919 in Bethlehem.