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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : features : people, places & past May 26, 2016

1/7/2014 2:24:00 PM
After a lifetime in Verde Valley, Soto retires from cement company
Vietnam vet says it's time to let the younger generation carry on
After more than 42 years, Danny Soto is retiring from SRMG.VVN/Jon Hutchinson
After more than 42 years, Danny Soto is retiring from SRMG.VVN/Jon Hutchinson

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter

Danny Soto is a simple man. He went to high school, entered the military, got a job and now has resigned. But, Danny has something special: a sense of persistence.

Danny also has a deep perspective. He stayed in one place as the world spun around him.

It all goes back to Jerome. His mother was born in Jerome. Danny was born in Phoenix, but the family then moved to Flagstaff when he was young. He doesn't remember much about his father, who died in an accident when he was a toddler. His mom didn't care for the cold in Flagstaff, and the family relocated to Clarkdale. So, Danny went to school in Jerome and graduated from Mingus on the Hill when Mingus High School held class there.

That's also where he would meet his wife. Maxine Soto says the couple were high school sweethearts at the time. They graduated in 1966. The war was already growing in Vietnam.

Danny says when he checked, the quotas were all full, but he was finally drafted in '67 and joined the "Currahees," the 101st Airborne B Company, 506 Infantry Battalion. The Currahees are named for the Currahees Mountains, which border the Kentucky camp.

101st Airborne Division was sent to Vietnam from late 1967 to 1971. 1-506th was recognized for its role during the Tet Offensive in early 1968 at the height of American involvement in the war. The Currahees were also part of the Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969. Danny Soto was wounded and awarded a Purple Heart.

But Danny most remembers getting pictures from home in '67 when one of Arizona's historically biggest snowstorms blanketed the Verde Valley, Roofs caved in from the heavy snow at the fairgrounds and the American Legion hall. He showed the pictures to fellow soldiers saying, "It never snows like that. I wonder what happened?"

Danny returned home in 1971 and started to work. He was hired at the Phoenix Cement company as a laborer. That was the beginning of what would become a 42-and-a-half-year career with the plant.

The cement plant was built in 1959 in Clarkdale by American Cement Co., a company created by three other cement makers specifically to supply cement for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, a process that took five years. The company restored many of the jobs lost when the United Verde smelter closed in Clarkdale in 1953.

Danny worked in a number of departments throughout his career, eventually rising to the top post of Central Control Operator just below the plant supervisor. He would eventually sit behind half a dozen monitors that show conditions of the entire plant movement and the most important kiln processes where the Portland cement is made.

Construction of the plant would originally bring natural gas to Clarkdale, but the high fire kiln would also burn coal, often shipped by train and later by truck.

Danny and Maxine bought a 1-year-old house on East Aspen, just east of Willard, where Marcus Lawrence Hospital would eventually be built and move from its Old Town Cottonwood location. Their first child was born in the newly completed hospital.

He says houses at that time were just the structure, so he took landscaping classes at the college, with classes in Clarkdale and put in his own landscaping, walls and trees.

Most of Cottonwood was spreading out from Old Cottonwood in all directions.

Danny says you could stand outside his house and look all the way to Mingus Avenue where the elementary school was. Junior high grades were still attending class for sixth, seventh and eighth grades at the Clemenceau school.

The Sotos had four children of their own and when their daughter was a senior in high school, they adopted two more children ages 4 and 7. All the children are gone today, but the Chihuahuas help fill the house.

The American Cement Phoenix Cement plant would eventually be sold to Griffin Hill and finally to present Salt River Materials Group. Soto was trained in Chicago when the new modern control room was built.

He became a 'burner' in 1983, but as the plant would change, he was trained to keep it going too. Danny was working when a new kiln was installed in the plant and when during a multi-million dollar upgrade of facilities.

In 1998, he retired from his post with the National Guard after 21 years. He thought he was going to be called up for Desert Storm, but the conflict ended quickly. He says the plant let him off for the weekend and summer camp trainings. He also took two extended trips to Europe.

Soto is not actually the longest-serving employee at the Clarkdale plant. That title goes to another man, who also attended school and played sports with Danny in high school. He has worked for 45 years with the company.

A retirement party is schedule Feb. 8 at the American Legion for friends, family and co-workers.

Danny Soto says "Thanks to all past and present supervisors and fellow co-workers who I worked with." At 66, he says, its time to let the younger generation carry on.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Article comment by: Emily Robins

Lafarge shares jumped almost 7.9% last Friday in the OTC market when reports of ongoing talks about the merger between the two companies (Lafarge S.A. and Holcim Ltd) first made headlines.

Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014
Article comment by: Your Sister

You've worked long & hard Danny!! Although you've talked about retiring for a long time now, you finally did it! You deserve to enjoy a kick back life now.

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