SHEDDING LIGHT, Standard Speaker BY JIM DINO

Singer Glen Campbell immortalized the telephone lineman in the song “Wichita Lineman,” which was written by Jimmy Webb when he saw a lineman working alone atop a telephone pole as he was driving along the Kansas-Oklahoma border.

A group of women want to remember the electrical linemen who are killed and injured each year building and maintaining the nation’s electrical
infrastructure, and are proposing a national memorial be built near Freeland.

“The job is very dangerous,” said Rae Johnson of Freeland, who founded the National Sisterhood United for Journeyman Linemen in 2012. “We all kind of take for granted when we come home
and flick that light switch that it’s just going to work. I think a lot of people don’t realize what all it takes to do it. A lineman dies once every 10 days, and a lineman is injured every day.”

The organization wants to build the memorial on an 11-acre former alpaca farm along Route 940 near the former Popular Drive-In between Freeland andWhite Haven in Foster Twp. The project
faces a zoning hearing Wednesday.

The organization has acquired the property, where its members intend to erect poles to immortalize those killed doing their job since the organization was founded.

The memorial will initially be 10 telephone poles — one for each year since NSUJL’s founding — and each will have the names of the linemen killed that year on a marble plaque. A new pole will be added for each ensuing year, which is the reason for the size of the land the organization sought, Johnson said.

“We lose about 40 every year, nationally, who are killed on the job,” Johnson said. “About 1,000 are killed and injured each year.”

Donations fund work

She said the idea for the organization came about after there were a lot of accidents between the end of September and December 2011.

“A bunch of us in a linewives’ Facebook group — women who are married to linemen — started talking about ways of fundraising to donate money to the families,” she said. “We started looking for a charity for linemen to donate the money, and found there wasn’t one nationwide.”

The organization is supported by donations, 80% of which come from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union; the rest are from corporate donations.

“Since we were founded, we’ve helped over 250 families with over $600,000 in financial assistance in financial aid nationally,” Johnson said.

Not only is Johnson’s husband, Tom, a lineman, Rae was an apprentice lineman hurt in 2004.

“I understand how devastating it can be to take away that income,” she said. “I wasn’t a bread-winner, but having gone through that personally, and the challenges behind being injured, I definitely was compassionate towards what they go through.”

The ceremony weekend

The annual Lost Linemen Memorial Ceremony to honor lineman killed and injured on the job is held the Friday evening of Father’s Day weekend, with the annual Fallen Lineworker’s Benefit Rodeo on Saturday. This past year it was held on the grounds of the proposed memorial, and it will be again in 2021. It has been held previously at in Clearfield County.

For the ceremony, linemen hang a lantern on a wire for every “brother” killed, Johnson said.

“These lanterns go home with thefamily, and are cherished,” Johnson said.

Otherwise, however, “then there’s nothing else,” she said.

“The cries from the mothers, dads and widows are that they don’t want their loss to be forgotten,” she continued. “The memorial is going to put a permanent place for that.”

Beyond the names on the poles, there will be garden plaques, memorial benches and paver options for people to honor their loved ones.

For the rodeo, journeymen and apprentice linemen are judged on speed and skill in rescuing injured linemen, speed of climbing up and down a 45-foot-tall pole and changing out parts.

“The rodeo is our largest fundraiser,” Johnson said. “We expect the weekend to bring in more than 1,000 people,” though the pandemic could limit that again this year.

Johnson said the organization is looking for vendors such as those whosell crafts and candy, and perhaps hot dog trucks for the weekend.

“They are welcome to register for the rodeo on web site, nsujl.org,” she said.

She said the rodeo is “the place to be” for anyone interested in pursuing a career in the field.

“Linemen are a dying breed,” she said. “What just happened in Texas, every single state was down there. There’s just not enough of us.”

Contact the writer: jdino@standard
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