Herm Wiley introducing President Obama on Wednesday.

Herm Wiley introducing President Obama on Wednesday.

Nerves took hold of Herman Wiley minutes before he was to take the stage in front of hundreds of co-workers, politicians and members of the national media on Wednesday (Aug. 5) in Wakarusa, Ind.

But then President Barack Obama took Wiley under his wing and helped calm those nerves, according to the South Bend Tribune.

“He took me backstage and told me everything would be all right,” Wiley said. “I took a deep breath and went out there.”

In a confident voice, Wiley told his story to those gathered in front of him – about how he worked in the recreational vehicle business for 32 years at the former Monaco Coach Corp., was recently laid off temporarily while trying to support his two children, and then how he was rehired in June at Monaco RV. 

“I have great faith the economy will turn around,” he told the crowd.

He then introduced the president and shook his hand as Obama made his entrance Wednesday at Monaco RV to thunderous applause from the nearly 200 Monaco employees there.

After the news conference, Wiley spoke about his once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It felt really good,” said Wiley, 54, of Elkhart. “I was proud to do this. It was beyond anything you could imagine.”

Wiley’s story is not unique. 

In fact, just about every Monaco employee there had two things in common: They are currently employed but had recently been laid off. Most of them lost their jobs sometime between July 2008 – when 1,400 workers were cut – and March.

Some 400 employees have been brought back since Navistar International Corp. bought the company out of bankruptcy and renamed it Monaco RV.

The news that Navistar would receive $39 million in grants to develop batteries and electric vehicles was a sign their company may be on the right track to stability. The money will be spent to build electric trucks with the ability to go 100 miles.

“Hopefully, we can get going and get back the money we were making a few years ago,” said Laura Collins, who makes the commute to Wakarusa from Logansport.

Collins said she took a $5 or $6 an hour pay cut when she returned but said the work is worth it. 

“It’s an industry that once you start working, it’s hard to stop,” she added.

Randy Trotter, of Bristol, Brandon Boisvart, of North Manchester, and Jeff Compton, of Warsaw, stood shoulder to shoulder as they talked about what the grant will do. They, too, were all temporarily laid off when the Monaco plant in Warsaw closed but now are happy to report to Wakarusa daily.

They say the stimulus money is helping them get back to work and secure their jobs.

“It was a struggle, struggle, struggle before we got called back,” Trotter said.

“Yeah, this really got us back to work,” Compton added. 

“And hopefully will keep us there,” Boisvart said.

Rich Esterlie, of Elkhart, was laid off a year and a half ago and struggled to find a job before he was called back.

“There already is a hybrid, now we’re getting involved with an electric line of trucks,” he said. “I definitely think this will help the business.”

Henry Kaiser was more skeptical, adding he hopes more jobs are added, but he said he’s not certain the money will help.

Josh Walters was riding around Wakarusa on his Harley-Davidson shortly after the news conference when he stopped to talk about the grant. 

“I think it’s a great thing as long as (Obama) sticks to what he says,” Walters said. “What’s iffy is having the electric vehicles go for 100 miles. They’ll have to improve on that, but it’s a starting point.”

Walters said he worked as a repo man after he was cut from Monaco.

“That’s when I got to see the other side of the economy,” he said. “I understand what people go through.”