Region rallies to help forge reopen after fire

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The Wendell August Forge will have a brand new building in 12 to 18 months following a fire that destroyed the historic structure, built in 1932.

The forge, located in Grove City, started work at a temporary location less than a week after the 25,000-square-foot cinderblock structure, which houses the factory and the gift shop, was consumed by flames.

The reason the company has been able to rebound so quickly? Resiliency of its employees and generosity from the Grove City community, said owner Frank W. "Will" Knecht.

"The support we have gotten from the local community has been astounding," Mr. Knecht said. "The transition from an absolute tragedy and the loss of a historic landmark to where we are 72 hours later is absolutely incredible."

Numerous local businesses have made donations, he said. Hicks Office Plus has provided supplies for the company's temporary workspace, where landlords have said they won't charge rent for a number of months. Local restaurants, including Pizza Hut and Quaker Steak & Lube, have provided free meals to employees and to firefighters who extinguished the blaze Saturday.

Grove City Councilman Rich Talbert said that "small town values" and a real sense of connection to Wendell August drove the people of Grove City to help.

"Everyone in Grove City knows someone who works at the forge or has worked at the forge," he said.

On Thursday, the first piece hammered since the fire will fulfill part of the biggest order in Wendell August's history: 20,000 pieces for the Pittsburgh Penguins, each an image of the ticket from the final home game of this year's regular season, the team's last at Mellon Arena.

"We as a team are committed to getting that order done by April 6 for an event that's April 8," Mr. Knecht said.

He said that the Penguins have helped the forge move forward, offering to do whatever they could to help fill the order, including offering to pay up front. Having such a huge order to fulfill so quickly was good, Mr. Knecht said, because it provided a goal that had to be met.

The temporary workspace was bustling on Thursday with employees cleaning the forge's vast collection of dies, used to press designs onto metal. The fact that only one die was destroyed was essential to the recovery, Mr. Knecht said.

"We realize that if we have our dies, then our heritage is still there," he said.

The dies are expected to be completely cleaned by tonight.

In addition to Grove City, help has been offered from all over the area, Mr. Knecht said, including Pittsburgh, Erie and Youngstown.

"This region is unbelievable," he said.

Ben Geier: or 412-263-1183. First Published March 12, 2010 5:00 AM


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