Building Bolivar

USACE, Huntington District
Published June 30, 2014

We recently received an email and some photos from Dennis Vliet from Little River, S.C., talking about his mother, Sylvia Plesia Vliet, and her memories of working for the construction company that built the Bolivar Dam.

Here are his comments:

The dam's construction company name was Minder Construction, as my dad, Donald Vliet, recalled - he is still living at age 95 in Massillon, Ohio.

My mother met John Minder, the construction company owner, and she may have been lured away for higher pay in the Great Depression. I suspect pay had to be involved because the travel time and working conditions at the dam had to be less favorable to a young woman who also did not drive a car. She was the secretary and paymaster on the dam construction project.

She traveled to work with John Minder who rented living quarters for his family near where my mother was boarding near downtown Canton; boarding was a common practice at the time.

In those days, construction company owners like W.A. Bechtel and Henry Kaiser, to name a few, lived on the road at the construction sites and knew how to do the work.

One day the tunneling crew walked off the job. They were subcontracted miners from West Virginia who traveled with their own religious minister; they bunked in a farm house near the dam site. They believed it was bad luck if a woman entered the tunnel under construction. When my mother walked into the tunnel one day on a tour, the miners walked off the job and worked ceased for a while until the situation was resolved.

My mother told me about the time she moved away from a window she was sitting next to, just before an explosion in the tunnel blew a large rock straight through the window.

My mother was born in 1916 and passed away in 2002. She married Donald Vliet in 1941 and they had three sons: Donald W. Vliet, deceased; Dennis Vliet, this writer; and Peter Vliet of Navarre, Ohio. They resided in Canton Township near North Industry, Ohio. My father did not meet my mother until after the dam was completed.

I still remember her speaking about how proud she was of those working days.