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Meet the UAW retiree helping dozens of Muskegon County seniors get COVID-19 vaccines

Ron Shafer, 77, of North Muskegon, has helped dozens of local seniors register for COVID-19 vaccines | Courtesy Photo

Muskegon Piston Ring was more than just a job for the members of UAW Local 480.

For people like Ron Shafer, 77, of North Muskegon, his fellow Local 480 members became family. Those bonds still exist today, surviving well beyond the now long-closed factory.

“We were family,” said Shafer. “My dad worked there for 30 years. I worked there for 30 years. We are all family.”

Generations of Muskegon County residents punched the clock at Muskegon Piston Ring, building a manufacturing powerhouse that helped drive Muskegon County’s economy and countless vehicles across the country.

When the country was in need, the Muskegon Piston Ring people were there, helping power America’s “Arsenal of Democracy.”

But times change. Plants close. Economies evolve.

The times changed for the members of Local 480 and Muskegon Piston Ring as well, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s. Raising children turned into spending time with grandkids, and busy work schedules gave way to retirements in the community they helped build.

Time has a way of making people forget, especially about those who ease gracefully into their golden years and spend their time worrying more about how they can spoil their grandchildren than balancing work, life, and raising a family.

But Shafer didn’t forget the people of Local 480 are still here. And when COVID-19 came to Muskegon County, Shafer made sure they weren’t overlooked by the medical community, either.

Despite the factory’s closure, former Local 480 President Doug Smith and his wife, Ida, kept meticulous records of the Local’s retirees just in case they ever needed to be contacted. When Doug died and Ida decided to move away from Muskegon, Ida gave those records to Shafer.

He used that information to begin contacting fellow retirees during the pandemic, and now as vaccines start being administered, he’s making sure they are registered to get vaccinated.

“I called all my union brothers and sisters that I had on that list that were 85 and older and got them signed up,” Shafer said. “The procedure was so easy.”

So far, Shafer said he has helped at least two dozen people get registered for vaccines.

He’s even offered rides to fellow retirees to make sure they can get to the clinic and gave them his phone number in case they have any trouble with the vaccination process.

“It’s a situation where you have people that are home alone,” said Shafer. “Some of them either have been married and lost their mate or worked at the shop and lost their mate … They’ve been locked in their home and in fear of really going out much at all.”

It’s people like Shafer who will be instrumental in making sure all Muskegon County residents have the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Unpredictable vaccine supplies and limited support from the state and federal government have left communities across the country scrambling to find ways to reach residents about the vaccination process quickly.

Muskegon County has been fortunate because it has strong existing partnerships between healthcare agencies like Public Health – Muskegon County, Mercy Health, HealthWest and the community’s federally qualified health centers, Hackley Community Care and Muskegon Family Care. It also has a strong network of local social service agencies.

By working together, these organizations quickly launched the website to provide COVID-19 information and a digital vaccine registration option to the community.

The United Way of the Lakeshore has stepped up to help secure volunteers. The Muskegon Rotary Club has volunteered to contact seniors by phone to schedule appointments. Other service organizations are working to ensure the seniors they serve, especially those without internet access, can get signed up.

But, it’s people like Shafer, individuals who care about the community and aren’t afraid of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, who provide an invaluable service in making sure people don’t fall through the cracks.

“These people have called me elated that they got their shot and the way that it happened,” said Shafer. “The way that the people treated them down there. The way that they had a nice place to go in, sit down, be warm. They were really happy.”

Ongoing vaccine distribution information and digital sign-up forms can be found at Friends, family members and others are encouraged to assist individuals in signing up who may not have internet access or otherwise face obstacles.

People with questions about the process can submit them through the site, email them to, or call Public Health – Muskegon County at 231-724-8856.


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