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Dreaming Big, Starting Off Not regretting anything and aspiring to move up the ladder in the electric cooperative fi eld is also a dream of Derric Cullinane, currently an apprentice lineman at Northwestern Electric Cooperative, head- quartered in Woodward, Okla. Originally from Idaho, Cullinane joined the U.S. Marines Corps following his high school graduation. Cullinane had two uncles who worked as linemen and who encouraged him to pursue a career in the electric distribution fi eld. “My uncles loved what they did, and it seemed re- ally appealing,” Cullinane says. “I have always been interested in the way electricity works. It kind of strikes me as magic.”

An electric cooperative in his hometown of Challis, Idaho, gave him a scholarship to attend Northwest Lineman College in Meridian, Idaho. “As a student, I used to ride along with my uncles to observe the dynamics of their work,” Cullinane says.

He graduated in 2009 and received an Electrical Line Workers Certifi cate. However, to his surprise, Cullinane did not fi nd a job close to home. After two years of working odd jobs, Cullinane was recruited to work at Northwestern Electric Cooperative in Oklahoma.

Accepting this position at Northwestern opened a new chapter in Cullinane’s life. He has now been in Oklahoma for close to a year. His fi ancé moved to Oklahoma as well, and the couple is looking into eventually buying a house and starting a family. Cullinane—who is currently going through the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives’ Apprenticeship Program (read more about this pro- gram on Page 22)—enjoys life in Oklahoma and the state’s growing economy; however, nothing is dearer to him than his love for his co-workers and the re- warding feeling he has every day for the people he serves.

“This is by far the best job I have ever had,” Cullinane says. “I love my co-workers. It’s so good to get to tangibly see work completed. I especially like playing a part in restoring power to someone’s home so they can keep their kids warm at night. I don’t plan on leaving this industry, and would like to go as far as I can go.”

Standing the Test of Time Going as far as he can is Danny Lemke’s goal. He has been a lineman at Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative (VVEC) for 36 years. “I feel I haven’t worked one day of my life,” Lemke says. “I’m 55, and I still want to be a lineman. It can be challenging at times because it’s a physical job, but I’m hanging on to it.”

Lemke was born and raised in Collinsville, Okla., where VVEC is headquartered. His dad was the man- ager of a local machine shop where Lemke worked before realizing that was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Lemke took on a job working for a contractor wiring buildings, but he needed a job that


offered benefi ts. It was then that VVEC came into the picture, offering Lemke a job as a groundman, a posi- tion he accepted on July 18, 1977, making $4 an hour. “It didn’t take me very long to realize this is what I wanted to do,” Lemke says. “I enjoy the fact that we work at a different place almost every day and every job is different. I like the fact we are constantly learning.”

Over the years, Lemke has witnessed many changes at VVEC.

“When I started, we climbed everything, and I loved it. We didn’t have any bucket trucks,” Lemke says in deep thought, reminiscing his early days as a lineman. “We used to have map books that we carried with us everywhere; now we have computers in our trucks. I still carry my map book that I stuff under my seat, and I get it out once in a while.”

Lemke also says he has seen many advancements in linemen clothing. When he began, linemen did not have to wear a specifi c type of clothing in the fi eld; now, linemen at VVEC are required to wear fl ame- resistant pants, shirts, and raincoats when needed and a specifi c type of climbing boots.

Throughout his career, Lemke has worked as a groundman, a digger operator, a service lineman and a maintenance truck lead lineman, a position that he has held for the last 20 years. Lemke is extremely com- plimentary of his co-op and its management team. “Working with people is the most rewarding part of this job,” Lemke says. “Our management is member- oriented and always encourages us to put our mem- bers fi rst.”

Lemke says he has seen tremendous growth in VVEC’s service territory through the years. “What used to be vast cow pastures are now busi- nesses, housing divisions and apartment complexes,” he says. “Years ago, I never would have imagined this area would grow so much, and, if you told me I’d have a computer to use, I’d have thought it would be as big as the truck I drive.”

Looking back on his career, Lemke’s most treasured memories are the ones in which he was a part of help- ing other people and cooperatives in the state during emergency situations. The rewarding moments also require the understanding and support of a lineman’s family. “I can’t count the number of kids’ birthdays, Christmases and other family events I—and other line- men I work with—had to miss when we had storms that called us to the fi eld,” Lemke says. Because of his experience, Lemke has seen a lot in

the fi eld and says safety is a life-keeping key for a lineman.

“There’s no eraser on a lineman’s pencil, if you make a mistake…” he chuckled. “If you do everything right, it’s a safe job, but if you take your mind off what you’re doing, then it is life-threatening.” And life is a gift—Lemke knows that well. He says his motto is the same as Peter Pan’s: I will never grow up.

“This is what I like to do, and I’ll do it as long as I can,” Lemke says with a genuine smile on his face.

Step Up to the Line How to Become a Lineman

By Anna Politano

A famous expression among linemen circles reads: “And God said, ‘let there be light,’ and then He created linemen.”


lineman’s educational path has evolved through the years. Decades past, most linemen were trained on the job with some classes taking place at a regional vo-tech center. Today, however, those interested in pursuing a career as a lineman are encouraged to pursue an asso- ciate degree in Linework Technologies. In Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University (OSU) is the only institution that offers the program at the OSU-OKC and the OSU-Okmulgee campuses. However, there are several institu- tions and colleges across the coun- try that offer similar degrees. According to Director of Safety and Loss Control Kenny Guffey with the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC), most linemen training programs of- fer job placement opportunities. “There are lots of employers— electric cooperatives, investor- owned utilities, contractors, and municipalities—that have a partner- ship with educational institutions to provide students with job place- ment opportunities. Utilities may also offer a paid internship program, which is a win-win for both parties,” Guffey says.

Internships allow potential line- workers to get hands-on experience in the fi eld and learn more about the specifi c utility. More often than not, internships lead to a full-time job offer.

Guffey says both the employer and the lineman benefi t when a new employee has earned an associate degree in Linework Technologies. These students are better prepared for the job market—most already

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