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'He leaves footprints': Warren native thrilled for Lordstown partnership

After 32 years spent working on the GM line, Willie Brundidge is rooting for the automotive startup that’s now electrifying his old stomping grounds.

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Willie Brundidge dedicated much of his life to General Motors, back when business was booming.

That’s one reason his family was excited for Lordstown Motors Corp.’s Tuesday announcement of its new partnership with Camping World. He’s rooting for the automotive startup that’s now electrifying his old stomping grounds.

The Alabama-born Black man, who lived in Warren from his teens to his 80s, spent 32 years working at the former GM Lordstown Assembly Complex, until he retired.

By the time he’d moved in with his son Shawn and daughter-in-law Sheletta at their home just outside Minneapolis, he could see “the decay” that had crept up his street in parallel with the 54-year-old plant’s decline and the loss of Black-owned restaurants, night clubs and businesses that had once thrived, Sheletta said.

“It was heartbreaking for him and he longed for those ‘old school’ days,” she said.

Willie’s GM job gave him — a Black man — the opportunity to be part of a union, she said. He became a deacon at his church, Friendship Baptist Church along Brier Street Southeast. Warren was also “a great place to raise a family,” he would tell Sheletta.

“He took his union stewardship very seriously,” Sheletta said. “The respect he got as a man — as a Black man — in Warren, Ohio was something he couldn’t necessarily get in Troy, Alabama.

“When that plant closed, even though he was no longer there, it was heartbreaking for him because he looked at all the opportunities that were flying out the window for men like him.”

Shelleta said the family also was thrilled to see Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis visit the Mahoning Valley, to announce the national RV retailer is offering up the service and support network for Lordstown Motors’ all-electric pickup truck, the Endurance.

Leaving ‘footprints’

Lemonis, also the host of CNBC reality TV show “The Profit,” earlier this year helped Sheletta’s family get on the road with a six-figure donation. They’re now celebrity endorsers for the company.

Of Sheletta’s four children, three are on the autism spectrum. She and her entire family now advocate for autism awareness. Sheletta, a digital media personality, hosts workshops for parents. Her 14-year-old, who is not autistic, has worked with legislators on a law offering more autism training for police.

Sheletta said her children’s problem behaviors have made commercial travel difficult during the coronavirus pandemic — it’s tough for them to keep masks on and she’s worried they might “melt down” on a plane.

Sheletta and her husband Shawn had given up on trying to buy on themselves. When Sheletta spotted Lemonis giving away a camper on Twitter, she took a shot. Friends and contacts bombarded Lemonis with stories about her family’s activism.

Ultimately, Lemonis didn’t give them the camper — he gave them a full-size Class A RV that sleeps eight, as well as a monthly stipend and an offer to be celebrity endorsers for Camping World.

“Any time we gas up and go somewhere, he foots the bill,” Sheletta said.

 

 

The family received the RV in September and used it to visit Sheletta’s relatives in Texas and Louisiana. They haven’t yet returned to the Valley, but expect to visit in spring to visit Willie’s relatives, as well as his wife’s grave.

Sheletta said Lemonis is a person who “commits” to an area. Tuesday’s Camping World announcement could be a portent of more philanthropy, she said.

“He’s always doing something to help others and make them better,” Sheletta said. “Even though it’s about a good business deal, it’s also about the people in an area — how he can bring his celebrity status, his dollars, his business acumen to a community and make it better.

“Some people are all about the business deal and you’ll never seem them, but when he visits an area, he leaves footprints.”