ANNA — Rick VanGundy, of Wapakoneta, recently celebrated his 37th anniversary as a Honda of America associate. VanGundy started his career at the Marysville Plant.
“I was working in the motorcycle plant,” he said. “I had the lowest job there was because I was a new person.
His job was to correct painting mistakes on the motorcycle. If it was mispainted, he’d take off the decal and the motorcycle would be repainted.
He was encouraged by his uncle — who was a Honda associate — to apply with Honda of America.
“I was close to getting married in Bellefontaine. My uncle was pushing me so I put in my application,” he recalled.
“On Aug. 30, 1982, I was hired,” said VanGundy. “Aug. 31 was my birthday. Sept. 25 was my wedding day and Sept. 30 is my wife’s birthday. Lots of good things happened then.”
From Marysville he moved to Anna’s engine plant.
“I was working at Marysville when the announcement was made Honda was going to build an engine plant in Anna,” he said. “I was originally from Wapakoneta but I was living in Bellefontaine, which is how I was hired in Marysville. I thought it would be cool if I could get back to the Anna area.”
“We (Anna plant) were tiny back then,” he said. “My growth with the company and Anna’s growth have gone together.
“The original footprint of the Anna plant can still be seen today,” said Stacy Koons, HAM communications.
When the plant was built and employees hired, VanGundy wasn’t among the original group of employees.
“I came over six months after they started production,” said VanGundy. “At the time, there were 100 people working here. There’s 3,100 now.”
Honda Civic engines were added to the Anna production line in September 1986.
“That was a whole new ballgame for us,” said VanGundy. “We were following the Marysville plant in production. For a lot of us, our first Honda was a Civic. My first car was a Civic.”
With a plant expansion, a second assembly line was added to produce more Accord engines.
“There was some automation back then, but it’s much bigger today. When we first opened, we could produce 100 engines a day. Now we’re producing 4,800 engines a day.”
VanGundy said he loves working for Honda.
“It has made me grow so much as a person,” he said. “I’m doing things I never thought I would do.”
On his first day on the job in Marysville, he was sitting in the cafeteria, waiting for another associate to take him to the paint department. From there he moved to the quality department.
Other positions VanGundy has held with Honda include production and planning, long term planning, which includes planning for what Honda will be producing five to six years from now, how many engines can be made a day and planning for new lines.
“It’s all been fascinating,” said VanGundy.
Sixty percent of all engines in North America come from the Anna Engine Plant, said VanGundy and Koons.
“People in Ohio have a great work ethic,” said VanGundy. “Farmers are hard workers. Honda is in the middle of farm land. They all get up early and want to work. They work a hard day and their family is important to them.”
The highway structure, being close to Interstate 75, was a positive factor for Honda, said Koons.
“We’re also closer to the Big 3 automakers in Detroit,” VanGundy said.
VanGundy teaches the Honda philosophy to all new associates. On their second day of orientation, they spend four hours learning the Honda philosophy and core values.
“One day someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey do you want to do this?’,” he said. “I pull out the book I was trained on with the new associates.”
VanGundy said Honda offers many training opportunities on-site.
“There are 30 to 40 to 50 different training sessions for the associates,” he said.
VanGundy said he met Mr. Soichiro Honda twice. In 1983, he visited the Marysville plant when VanGundy was working in the stamping department.
“He was a spry fellow,” he said. “Very energetic. He shook everyone’s hand. We stopped production so we could meet him. I remember he liked to pull the men’s beards.”
The second meeting was in 1989 when he was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame in Detroit. Mr. Honda made the trip to Anna to see the employees.
“He was fascinating to meet,” said VanGundy.”It was like meeting Henry Ford.”
VanGundy said he loves what he does.
“Everybody here is family,” he said. “We’ve had family festivals at Kings Island and Cedar Point. One of our first ones as at Mad River Mountain.
“If you want opportunities, they are here for you. If you just want to work eight hours on a line, you can do that too,” he said. “
The area around the Anna plant has changed since VanGundy started working there.
“When I first came to Anna, there was nothing by the interstate,” he said. “Now there are housing developments. There are new schools. You can see the impact Honda has had on this area. We have all had a part of it.”
Honda associates volunteer in the communities in which they live. Honda has donated $100 million to communities in Ohio since it started production 40 years ago.
“This part of Ohio has a lot of firsts — We have the Wright Brothers. We have Neil Armstrong and we have the first Japanese automobile plant in Marysville,” said VanGundy.
VanGundy was the 629th person hired at the Marysville plant. Today he is No. 21 on seniority roster for Honda of America and No. 3 at the Anna Engine Plant.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.