MANASSAS — The 50th-anniversary celebration in remembrance of IBM’s Manassas facility was held on May 2.

IBM announced in October 1968 that it was building a 250,000 sq ft manufacturing and laboratory facility. Construction began shortly after the first such IBM facility in Virginia. The decision by IBM to build a facility in Manassas was significant for this predominantly rural and agricultural community.

There have been other celebrations of the 25th and 35th anniversaries of the facility, but the 50th has special meaning as a significant milestone. Recognizing this, a few folks formed a committee and invited the retirees and employees that worked in the original 1968 facility to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its construction.

A group of nine people met periodically over six months, putting in the effort to plan and prepare this event. First, they found a location able to accommodate 250 people and selected refreshments. Then they began to reach out to former employees across the country to send invitations and manage reservations.

Dave Gunnarson, a chemical and environmental engineer still employed at Lockheed Martin, was one of two main initiators of this event, but it took a committee of energetic and enthusiastic folks to bring this celebration to fruition. Willie Tolson, the Facilities Engineering Manager of Construction Coordination at IBM, was the other main initiator and also emceed the event. Manassas City Mayor Hal Parrish II was a keynote speaker in the event.

Maury Gerson, IBM Manassas retiree, and former Manassas City Council member introduced Parrish. The mayor reminisced about his father, former Mayor Harry Parrish, sharing stories with him about the secrecy and excitement surrounding the news about IBM coming to Manassas and the impact it has had on this great city and surrounding area. He then introduced and read the proclamation and congratulated the group for their achievements.

In addition, historic materials were collected, identified, and mounted for attendees to view. These included nine tables of maps, aerial photos, organizational charts, and other related memorabilia.

A photo booth was set up and a professional photographer was on hand to capture images of the party and groups of employees. A station for people to write down and submit stories of their times at the facility was also included.

As a souvenir of the event, a copy of a 32-page special 50th Anniversary facility history booklet provided to each attendee. The largest and most important activity was for all attendees to greet and talk with each other.

Attendees chipped in funds to help to meet the expenses of the celebration, including the room and food.

According to Robin Clemen, a member of celebration’s organizational committee, IBM of the 1960’s through 1990’s was a special company with strong values of respect and ethics. Most employees felt part of a larger IBM “family,” as employees and many workers spent a significant portion of their waking hours engaged at work with each other solving problems or challenging goals.

The facility was sold in 1994 to Loral. Today, the former IBM building houses BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin.

Though big blue is long gone, the many life-long friendships and strong relationships developed during IBM’s ownership remain. Now that virtually all of these people have retired or moved away for other reasons, a chance to meet, reconnect, and reminisce was greatly appreciated, said Clemen.