Grandpa Ideker Speaks to the National Sojourners

On Wednesday, January 14, I had the privilege of attending the National Sojourners meeting and lunch at the Denver Elks Lodge where Grandpa Ideker was the featured speaker. A colleague of mine is a member there, and, when we had been discussing family histories, he asked if Grandpa might be willing to come speak to the group about his history in the nuclear weapons industry. I put him in touch with Grandpa, and Grandpa accepted the invitation.

The National Sojourners are a Masonic organization, so Grandpa began his speech with his personal history with the Masons before moving into his history in the nuclear weapons industry. His first stop was in Richland, WA for the construction of the Hanford plant. At that point, Richland was little more than a trailer park for the construction workers and he talked about the lack of shopping there and the need to go across the Columbia River to Pasco or Kennewick to get even the most basic supplies.

After the construction of Hanford was complete, he ended up getting a job as a machinist in Albuquerque building pressure vessels and the exterior shells for the atomic bombs. He spoke of how hot it was to work in that factory since it was a metal building with no air conditioning in the desert of New Mexico and of all of the tools that they invented specifically for fabricating the parts needed for the bombs.

In 1968, the government announced that they would be closing the factory in Albuquerque and splitting the manufacturing into three sites. Grandpa ended up following the manufacturing that he was involved in to Rocky Flats in Denver, moving here in 1969. When talking about Rocky Flats, Grandpa talked about the two separate sides of the plant; one dealing with plutonium, and the other with largely nonradioactive items. He worked in the latter, rising up to be a plant general manager by the time he retired. He also talked about the change in the media relationship with Rocky Flats after the first fire in Building 771, when the media didn’t believe the damage estimates when the paint on the exterior of the building wasn’t even scorched. This skepticism lead up to the FBI raid in 1989 that resulted in the final closing of the plant.

As he wrapped up his speech, he talked about how proud he was of the work they had done. The most poignant statement he made was when he talked about how he had “worked his whole life building things he prayed would never be used.”

It was an excellent speech and a great time. The Sojourners’ were all highly appreciative of his talk and I even learned some more family history that I hadn’t known before. As the third generation of my family to have worked in the nuclear weapons industry in general, and Rocky Flats in particular, it was really fascinating to hear all of the stories of the beginnings of the industry. It was also bittersweet knowing that I had spent the first part of my career ensuring that his prayer was answered, dismantling and cleaning up the very buildings that he had helped build.