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Former Salsbury-Solvay workers gather for Charles City reunion

Former Salsbury-Solvay workers gather for Charles City reunion
This part of the Floyd County Historical Museum was once the offices and testing labs for Salsbury Laboratories, a veterinary pharmaceutical company started in the 1920s. This building was built in 1933 with an addition built in 1936. File photo
By Bob Steenson,

People will be gathering from around the globe and across the nation this weekend in Charles City for a reunion of former employees of Salsbury Laboratories and Solvay Animal Health.

Currently, 140 folks are expected to begin gathering on Friday for a weekend of reminiscing and visiting former Salsbury-Solvay sites.

The reunion is the result of almost a year’s work, and has grown well beyond what early organizers imagined.

“This whole thing has kind of mushroomed,” said Jerry Dreyer, of Urbandale, one of the organizers. “We imagined a couple dozen of our old pals who’ve always had a special place in our hearts for Charles City to come gather around again, but it just kept blossoming and growing.”

Dreyer was quick to point out that several people have been involved in putting the weekend together, and he said they have been surprised by the response.

A contact list has grown to about 250 names of former employees and was put together through emails, social media, internet searches and mailed letters.

“We have a couple coming from South Africa, another couple coming from New Zealand, a couple folks from the Netherlands and one from Belgium, and one couple who splits their time between New Orleans and Columbia, South America. We’ve got a couple coming from Germany as well,” he said.

People are also coming from New York, Florida, Minnesota, Idaho, Arkansas, Arizona — “and, of course, Charles City,” he said.

What started out as Salsbury Laboratories, founded by local veterinarian Joseph E. Salsbury in the 1920s to develop animal medications and vaccines, has grown, been sold and absorbed and spun off over the years, eventually ending up in some fashion in what is the Charles City Zoetis plant today.

The reunion this weekend will focus on the people who worked for Salsbury Laboratories and its successor, Solvay Animal Health. That takes the time period up to about 1997, when Solvay was acquired by American Home Products and folded into the Fort Dodge Animal Health company.

After that, the local company was part of national or international companies and didn’t have the sames ties to the Charles City community, Dreyer said.

“The majority of the people who are traveling here this weekend lived in Charles City for a short time or a long time,” he said.

In the final 10 years of Solvay, research and administration moved to a suburb of the Twin Cities, and some people who will be attending the reunion worked there and only traveled to Charles City for meetings or other business purposes, but still have fond memories of the community, Dreyer said.

“There is a certain family attitude that just doesn’t exist in many companies, and I do think that’s what’s drawing people back from so far away,” he said.

“People became close when we lived in Charles City. A lot of people who didn’t have family and friends because we weren’t natives of the area, bonded together and formed a group. We included some of the native Charles City people, of course. But it was truly a diverse and interesting group of people who all just enjoyed Charles City.”

The activities this weekend will include visiting former business sites.

The Salsbury Laboratories building is now the Floyd County Historical Museum, which will open up Saturday morning for visits by the reunion attendees.

The museum has a large collection from the business, and Laurie Kristiansen from Nashua will be hosting and helping show people around the Salsbury exhibit. Kristiansen was the advertising/communication manager for the business.

On Saturday afternoon, Zoetis is letting the group use its auditorium for a presentation on Salsbury-Solvay history.

“One of the most popular parts of the Salsbury era was what we called disease schools,” Dreyer said. “We had them for chickens, turkeys and pigs. Those kind of faded out in the ’90s, but there were over 400 schools since Dr. Salsbury started them in the late ’20s, early ’30s.”

Although it has since been remodeled, the auditorium at what is now Zoetis was originally built for the purpose of giving the disease schools.

“We wanted to do a historical review of where Salsbury evolved from, and what better place than the auditorium where so much of that history happened,” Dreyer said.

“We put together a presentation with the help of the good folks at the museum, which has quite a few resources that they’ve given us. We are tracing the roots of Salsbury and Solvay up until the time of the Fort Dodge purchase, and then also following some of the old product lines and where they have ended up,” he said.

The reunion attendees are headquartering at the Sleep Inn in Charles City, and a meeting room has been set aside for displays of Salsbury-Solvay memorabilia.

“We’ve asked people to bring their memorabilia, photos, whatever else,” Dreyer said. “We’ll also have a large number of obituaries. We plan to remember those people who are no longer with us, our old colleagues. Those will be on display as well.”

One of the attendees, Joe O’Dowd, was very fond of Charles City, Dreyer said, and thought it would be a good idea to leave something behind after the reunion is over.

O’Dowd is organizing a 50/50 raffle and the proceeds will be donated to the Charles City School District toward the project to build the new high school baseball and softball diamonds.

The banquet Saturday night will feature an official welcome by Charles City Mayor Dean Andrews. Andrews’ wife, Marcie, started working at Solvay in 1983 in research and development and retired from what was by then Pfizer Animal Health in 2011 as associate director of quality.

The theme of the Saturday banquet will be reflections by former employees on why Charles City has been a special place for them. A brunch Sunday will offer people a chance to reflect on “life lessons learned” from their years at Salsbury-Solvay.

There will also be plenty of time to socialize and reminisce, Dreyer said.