NORTON SHORES, Mich. — When William Bolema wants to conjure up memories of his career at the former Naph-Sol Refining Co. in Muskegon Township, he doesn’t have to look into a crystal ball – just at an aluminum ball displayed on his living room table.
Bolema, 83, of Norton Shores, began working in the yard crew at the refinery in 1948. He created the artistic ball decades ago at the plant during his work breaks from thousands of aluminum foil gum wrappers.
“Back then, the gum sticks came in a thin piece of paper stuck to an aluminum sheet,” Bolema said. “They were bought in a pack of five. In my spare time I would place a wrapper on the steam pipe and separate the foil from the paper. Then put the foil on the ball and roll it on the Masonite table top and make it nice and round.”
His supply of foil gum wrappers was bountiful.
“In the plant there were only a few places you could smoke so a lot of people chewed gum,” said Bolema, a nonsmoker. “That’s when I started making my ‘ball.’”
News of his silvery hobby circulated around the refinery.
“After a while, everyone in the plant was saving me gum wrappers,” Bolema said. “Even the supervisor was saving wrappers for me. The whole operation didn’t take that long, so my work was not affected. At no time did my work suffer because of my hobby.”
Unfortunately, his hobby was short-lived at the plant.
“After four years of this hobby the plant announced they were shutting down,” Bolema said. “So there went my job and hobby.”
After the plant closed, Bolema’s plan for the ball of more than 29,000 wrappers was to display his artwork on his living room table. His wife, the late Helen Bolema, had other plans and the ball was placed in storage at their home.
After the death of his wife three years ago, Bolema said he took his artwork out of storage and displayed it on his living room table. It’s become a tabletop piece that stirs up great memories and conversations for Bolema of his more than 20-year career at the refinery.
“It was a good place to work and have a little fun too,” Bolema said.
The only issue with the ball now is deciding who gets to keep it after Bolema no longer has a place for it.
“It’s a big thing in the family – who gets it,” said Bolema’s daughter Nancy Davis, the fourth of his six children.