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Retired MSC Director Dan St. Louis is presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, president of CVCC.

Retired MSC Director Dan St. Louis (L) listens to speakers during the event.

Retired MSC Director Dan St. Louis shares a moment with Sandy Hamilton of the Textile Technology Center at Gaston College.

Retired MSC Director Dan St. Louis is presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, president of CVCC.

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Retired MSC Director St. Louis presented N.C.’s highest honor

Posted May 6, 2021

 

By Devin Steele

 

CONOVER, N.C. – When ground was broken for the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) PPE-NC Initiative here on April 30, former longtime MSC director Dan St. Louis greeted old friends before finding his seat reserved on the front row of the outdoor Norman B. Coley Amphitheater. From that chair, he would hear several speakers extol the virtues of the center and its new endeavor.

 

But little did her know he would shortly be in for the surprise of his life.

 

After all, he had retired last June with little fanfare, despite having led the MSC at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) and its predecessor entity, the Hosiery Technology Center for three decades.

 

And that was the way he wanted it – to slip into the sunset.

 

But about midway through the ceremony, St. Louis was called to the stage by Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, president of CVCC, who said, “Dan, today, we recognize your greatness, and so does the State of North Carolina.”

 

There, St. Louis was presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, the highest honor bestowed to citizens who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments. The more than 100 attendees were asked to stand, and Hinshaw gave the official North Carolina state toast in St. Louis’ honor.

 

He was clearly stunned. “Well, that was certainly unexpected. Tony, you got me one more time,” said St. Louis, referring to longtime colleague and MSC Special Projects Director Tony Whitener. “I had no idea any of this was going to happen, as usual. He got me good on my 50th and 60th birthdays, too.”

 

He added: “Folks have always asked me why the MSC is so successful, and it’s really pretty simple. The good Lord put a lot of people in front of me and in the center through the years to help guide us all the way through to where we are today.”

 

St. Louis thanked a number of people who contributed to the MSC’s success through the years and helped make the latest project possible. Among many was Sam Buff, former director of the Textile Technology Center (TTC) at Gaston College and now the vice president and general manager of the MTIN, who “has been like a brother to me for many years,” he said.

 

“And I have had a lot of time to think about the staff at MSC,” he said. “Each and every one of you came at a time and did certain things that we needed in the mix. You know as well as I do that I can't do what you do. You're just incredible. You helped us implement things, but you also, in your own way, would tell me when I was about to do something really stupid. And that's huge.

 

“And I have to call out Tony Whitener, one of the smartest and hardest-working people I've ever met,” he continued. “He can get more done in 24 hours than most people can do in two weeks. He's certainly been a true friend. I appreciate all this, but I've been blessed to be part of this network and group that all work together to try to make things better.”

 

St. Louis was praised often by various speakers during the event, including his successor, Jodi Geis, who choked up when speaking about her friend and former longtime colleague.

 

“We would not be here today without the infectious vision of Dan St. Louis,” she said. “For 30 years, Dan tirelessly poured his heart and spirit into this center. From humble beginnings at the Hosiery Technology Center … through being written out of the state budget in the middle of the night … to a beautiful new state-of-the-art building here in Conover, where we proudly renamed ourselves the Manufacturing Solutions Center … and then finally to June 26th, 2020, when you quietly retired during a pandemic. All has led to this day.”

 

Geis continued: “To know Dan is to know a spirited, animated, textile-loving coach. And I call him coach because that's what he did – he led a team. He would say, ‘MSC, put your head down and go build me a textile lab or a knitting lab or a structure lab.’ And he gave us the support and the freedom to do it. He always asked us, ‘what do you need?’ And we would go forth, and he would go find the support or the money or the people needed. Dan was a humble, passionate leader, and we have the privilege to continue his legacy. To (his wife) Sandra and all of the St. Louis family – we thank you for your sacrifice. Dan's work has not gone unnoticed and it has made an impact. He was a bright, bright light in a sometimes dim textile industry, and he will be greatly missed. We can only try to shine as brightly as he did.”

 

Hinshaw later shared a story about when he and St. Louis traveled to Washington, D.C., on business.

 

“We had an opportunity to sit in front of the main staffers of President Obama's first term, and we were talking about new research, a new type of textile that was being developed here in this area. And those staffers were interested in what we were saying, but they were sort of sitting back in their chairs. And one of them asked Dan, ‘well, this is all interesting research, but how many white papers have you written about this?’ Those of you that know Dan St. Louis can imagine his reaction. Dan sat straight up, slammed his fist on the table and said (imitating him in a Southern drawl), "White papers! White papers! We ain't got time to write white papers. This is about jobs!’ All of a sudden those staffers sat up and paid attention and, from that moment on, I knew I was among greatness.”

 

Buff called St. Louis “a one-of-a-kind, inspirational leader who comes along once in a generation. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many Dan St. Louis’ in the world, and the world needs more. Dan has led the center through some really good times and some challenging times, too. And what has never changed is his tireless promotion of the MSC and the industry from coast to coast and in the halls of Congress and on the streets of Conover. Thank you, Dan, for your vision, your passion and your unwavering commitment to Catawba Valley Community College and the MSC, and to the creation of the new thing we call the MTIN.

 

“You've not only been an industry giant, you've been a great mentor and friend,” he added. “We would not be standing here today without your vision.”

 

Conover Mayor Lee E. Moritz Jr., who has served in that position since 2009, recalled that early in his first term, during the Great Recession, sitting in a room with a group of town leaders to address the 12+ percent unemployment rate in the area.

 

“And Dan St. Louis shared an idea,” he said. “I knew and trusted Dan, as he and I had worked closely together when the MSC was previously called the Hosiery Technology Center, and I valued Dan's friendship and always respected his passion for U.S. manufacturing. The idea was to refocus on manufacturing – not to reinvent ourselves as something we were not, but to double down on something we've always been, which is a manufacturing region of quality products for the world.

 

“And thus the idea of the MSC was born – a facility of young ideas where advanced manufacturing technology could get started, and then grow sufficiently to occupy a vibrant manufacturing space in our region,” he added. “Credit Dan for that.”

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