It was only three months since Larry Shellenberger’s last day on the job as senior district line technician for People’s Electric Cooperative (PEC) in Ada, Okla., and he was already a tad grumpy about retirement.
“To be honest with you, it kinda sucks,” he says with a chuckle. “I don’t like being retired. I’d much rather be working at PEC.”
But not to worry. Shellenberger was scheduled to be back at the co-op after another three months had passed, once his eyes had recovered from cataract surgery. For a couple of days a week, he’d be inspecting lines and poles and, more important, passing more than half a century of experience and knowledge on to a new generation of lineworkers.
Shellenberger’s retirement last summer, after 53 years on the co-op’s staff and more than 40 years as its go-to district guy in the town of Sulphur, was a significant milestone, and not just for the veteran lineman. PEC paid tribute to its longest-serving employee, and
Oklahoma Living, the statewide co-op consumer magazine published by the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (statewide), put him on the cover of its National Cooperative Month issue in October.
And the 5,300 or so citizens of Sulphur marked “Larry Shellenberger Appreciation Day,” as proclaimed by Mayor Brandon Flowers.
The official proclamation cited the town’s wish “to grant special recognition to Larry Shellenberger for his dedication and loyal support of this community.”
Over the years, Flowers says, it’s been the little things that Shellenberger and his co-op employer have done that come most easily to mind.
“Larry and People’s Electric, they’re real good about helping out our city,” the mayor says. “At Christmas, we have banners that we hang along Broadway, our main street. Well, our city doesn’t have access to a bucket truck, so People’s Electric and Larry help hang the banners and the lights. It’s just above and beyond. He’s always willing to help out.”
As it turns out, Flowers has a personal history with Shellenberger too. The summer before he started college, about a decade ago, Flowers took part in an internship program that had him shadowing Shellenberger. It was a full summer’s worth of long, hard days, the mayor remembers, but because of that experience, he’d probably have tried to get on the PEC line crew if he hadn’t ended up taking over his dad’s heating and cooling business.
“If I were to do anything else, it’d be to work with People’s Electric as a lineman,” he says.
Shellenberger was happy to hear it.
“He was my apprentice for one summer, and he was very good help,” he says of the kid who’d go on to become mayor. “I really enjoyed working with him.”
Shellenberger arrived in Sulphur in 1971, nine years into what would turn out to be a 53-year PEC career. For years, he took care of just about any co-op-related business for miles around the town: setting up new services and terminating old ones, fixing outages, and even handling bill collections.
“Yeah,” he says now, “there were some long weeks in there.”
But the long weeks were worth it, as writer James Pratt noted in the
Oklahoma Living article last fall. “He felt a special connection to the members in his territory.”
“It’s good to do things for other people,” he tells
RE Magazine. “I think you see that among a lot of coop employees, just doing the small stuff.”
The co-op’s top managers always backed him up in his unofficial personal policy of taking care of his community, Shellenberger says. He has especially kind words for Randy Ethridge, PEC executive vice president & CEO.
“He’s real nice about trying to help people,” Shellenberger says. “I can’t brag on him enough.”
Not surprisingly, Ethridge brags right back. “We appreciate the thousands of dedicated man-hours Larry has worked during his 53 years on the job,” the CEO said when Shellenberger retired. “It’s a monumental task to duplicate Larry’s knowledge and experience, along with his unparalleled drive and passion for keeping the lights on.”
Fortunately, according to another top PEC official, the co-op won’t have to try to duplicate all of that experience right away. Maintenance Director Del Johnson was eagerly awaiting Shellenberger’s return to a scaled-back schedule.
“We will love having Larry back,” Johnson told Pratt. “He has an incredible amount of experience and is a very valuable person in our company.”
Since early this year, Shellenberger’s been passing on that experience to the latest generation of lineworkers. His safety messages will always be relevant, though the kind of linework he and his crewmates did back in 1962 must seem quaint to a recent graduate of a modern power-line training program.
To the best of his recollection, PEC had about 8,000 members when he started, and it’s nearly tripled since then.
“When I went to work, they had one bucket truck and one digger derrick,” he says. “I don’t know how many buckets they’ve got now, maybe 15 or 20. We’ve been getting better and better equipped to work the line. They have some of the best equipment that money can buy. It’s a lot better. Safer too.”
He may miss the full weeks on the job or the overtime pay that came with all the extra tasks he took on in Sulphur for more than 40 years. But if he can use his two-day-a-week retirement schedule to help make sure all the PEC linemen go home every night, Shellenberger will be content.
“That would really please me.”