Henry Deese, Newport News Shipbuilding’s longest-serving employee, cuts the ribbon for a new lunch room in Bldg. 902. Photo by Lexi Whitehead

Reclaimed Space Honors Longtime Shipbuilder, Features Mural

Published February 1, 2023

Newport News Shipbuilding’s longest-serving employee, Henry Deese, cut a ribbon last week to celebrate the opening of a reclaimed space for employees in Bldg. 902. But that wasn’t his only honor. Shipbuilders who work in the building also voted overwhelmingly to name the space Deese Hall.

“It was a surprise that out of all the names, they decided on that one,” said Deese, who has worked at NNS for more than 66 years.

The idea to create a lunch room came from focus groups held after last year’s stay survey, according to James Desrosiers, director of Aircraft Carrier Engineering. Leaders found that employees in the building wanted more common spaces. The room that is now home to Deese Hall previously served as the plot room, housing huge plotter printers that were used to print drawings.

“As we move forward in design, we’ve moved away from paper products to digital products. With those digital products, we really didn’t need a plot room anymore,” Desrosiers said. “This space was being underutilized, so we decided to reclaim it to create something that our employees said was important to them.”

The space was approved, and tables, chairs and appliances were installed. However, the room was bit lackluster visually, according to Katherine Barber (E08), facilities coordinator for Bldg. 902. She solicited help from E27 Manager Neal Crocker only to find out several designers on his team have an art background. That included Christian Doyle, Emily Cuenca and Jules McNamara from the Savannah College of Art and Design as well as Susan Owsley from Virginia Tech. These employees are all relatively new hires with three years or less experience at NNS.

“I had never seen such high engagement in a project before,” Crocker said.

Emily Cuenca, from left, Jules McNamara, Christian Doyle and Susan Owsley stand in front of the mural they painted in Bldg. 902. Photo by Lexi Whitehead

The four volunteered and came up with a plan to paint a mural to make the space more inviting. They worked together to iron out the design and choose the colors. The group came in on Saturdays to paint the mural, with some touching up on workdays after their shift.

“We collectively agreed it should be something more natural for the subject matter to really help take you out of the ‘I’m at work’ headspace to really let people relax while they’re eating lunch,” Cuenca said.

The mural depicts natural scenery from across Virginia – including the beach, the Great Dismal Swamp, the mountains and state and national forests. It also includes an aircraft carrier off the coast and an eagle in the sky.

“We really wanted to encompass what Virginia as a whole has to offer,” McNamara said. “I hope the splash of color and nature will alleviate a lot of the feelings of stress people get, and I hope they appreciate it.”

Also in on the action was E49 Manager Gene VanZandt. He volunteered to make a special sign for Deese Hall using his home woodworking shop. “I wanted to make a little contribution to the project,” he said. “Bringing people together is really important to me. I do it with my own team.”

Shipbuilders who work in Bldg. 902 submitted 168 suggestions – including Deese Hall – during a naming contest. Rebecca Lewis submitted the winning name.

“The excitement that this room has brought to the building is incredible,” Desrosiers said.

A mural painted by four shipbuilders welcomes employees in Bldg. 902’s new lunch room. Photo by Lexi Whitehead