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Last One Standing

Hays is only remaining employee
of Jefferson Proving Grounds

U.S. Army munitions facility
shut down its operations in 1995
of Jefferson Proving Grounds

By Laura Goodwin
Contributing Writer

(July 2011) – Yvette Hays would have never predicted that she would be the last original employee of the Jefferson Proving Grounds, especially one with so much responsibility. The U.S. Army-owned facility closed its main operation in 1995. Since its closure, it has been repurposed, still under its site manager’s watchful eyes.
“Being the last employee gets lonely,” Hays said. Her office shares a building with employees of Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge.

Yvette Hays

Photo by Laura Goodwin

Site manager Yvette Hays checks
barricades on the 51,000 acres of
the JPG still owned by the U.S. Army.
She started working there in 1987.

Hays started as an army civilian employee in March 1987, beginning her career as a personnel clerk. Upon the site’s closure, she was one of three employees who retained a job position in the site management team. She felt as though it was her personnel knowledge that helped her to keep her job. She had to process travel orders for those transferring to other bases or finalize arrangements for those choosing early retirement.
When asked about her initial feeling upon hearing of the base closure, she said, “It was very scary. I had children still in school, so I was worried about how to provide for them.”
The JPG opened in 1941 to test conventional munitions, such as bombs, mortars, and tank rounds, for World War II. The munitions had to be tested, before sending them overseas to the war effort. The site reached peak staffing in 1953, with approximately 1,800 employees. This year also saw 24-hour continuous testing, due to the country’s involvement in the Korean War conflict. Testing peaked again in the 1960s, aiding the Vietnam War effort.
Hays current position as site manager has her performing many varied duties. She reports weekly to Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C. She was appointed by the Garrison Manager at Rock Island. As a steward, she checks barricades on the 51,000 acres still held by the Army. She ensures that restricted areas are shut and locked, as well as checking that buildings are secure and have not been disturbed. Restricted areas include the 1,900 acres surrounding the depleted uranium area. All restricted areas are heavily marked with signs, she said.
However, not all of the area is held by the Army. Jefferson County has two parcels of land, including Kruger Lake, with the Indiana Department of Transportation holding a parcel, and the Madison Railroad holding a parcel and the rights to the railroad tracks. Clifty Creek utilizes a part of the site for its company storage.
Dean Ford holds more than 3,000 acres, including farmland and former base housing that he rents to others. The site is also home to the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. The Indiana Air National Guard also still performs testing at the site, in the North area. Their bombing range still periodically functions to test “air to ground” weapons.
Former co-worker Mike Moore remembers Hays as a positive person who always did her job well. “It’s only appropriate that she got to be the last employee,” he said. Moore worked at JPG for 20 years as a mathematician before transferring to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “I didn’t have enough time in to retire right away, at the time of the closure. I worked eight more years,” he said. “If the base hadn’t closed, I’d be there still.”

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