For more than 31 years, the call “Angola to 53-7” on the radio yielded the calm, cool and collected voice of one of our most esteemed linemen, Neal Knox. Alas, there is no longer a response, as 53-7 is 10-7, “clear.”
On Friday, Jan. 6, Knox bid adieu to the REMC, retiring after 31 years and 5 months of service and dedication to the cooperative.
“Years ago, I was told that working for the utility company was a good job,” Knox said.
He asked to fill out an application in the spring of 1985. After the summer passed, he got a call from (then general manager) Roger Burlingame who offered him a line position. Knox started Aug. 12 that year.
“I was tickled,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll take it!’”
Prior to starting with the co-op, Knox drove transport for Marathon Oil Company out of Waterloo. He also worked on the family farm, growing up as a “rural farm kid” between Butler and Hamilton. As an athlete, Knox was attracted to the physicality of the position.
“It’s outdoors, it’s physical, it’s dangerous; it’s everything that a young guy would want to do,” he said.
In his many years at the REMC, Neal crossed many, many miles of our system — so much so that he didn’t need maps; he knew the system like the back of his hand.
“There’s not a line I haven’t worked on,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of customers throughout my 31 years, and I would want them to say that I’ve led by example. That’s how I want to be remembered, as someone who was here to help, someone that was here to serve people.
“It’s grace. It’s God’s grace,” Knox continued. “He’s given me grace and mercy, so I try to pass that on. That’s what I try to live by.”
Knox truly lived by the co-op mantra of serving our membership, often taking the time to go above and beyond for members who let the REMC do some extra work on their property. He would hand deliver gifts and thank you cards, taking the time to show his appreciation for the members’ cooperation.
“It’s very rewarding,” Knox said. “You’re able to help people out. You’re able to serve people. We’re owned by the people we serve — what a great thing. I’ve met so many nice people out in the community.”
Known for being a hard, diligent worker, Knox always gave 120 percent to the cooperative and its membership, as well as the membership of neighboring co-ops, often traveling to nearby states to work storm restoration. He even assisted in restoration efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.
“It’s a dangerous job,” Knox said. “But there’s nothing more rewarding than working after a storm or an ice storm and everyone is cheering and giving you high fives because they’ve just gotten lights back on. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened. People are just elated to get power back, and it’s been very rewarding in that regard for me.
“You spend eight or nine hours a day together with the line crews,” Knox said. “We’re out there fighting, in the trenches, working together to build something. There’s a lot of self-satisfaction in that kind of thing — that you can drive down the road and say ‘Hey, we built this.’”
Following his retirement, Knox plans to do some traveling with Bev, his wife of 45 years. They plan to travel west to try to see as many national parks as they can, taking their motorcycle with them and doing some day trips. They also want to visit family members who live scattered across the states and spend as much time as possible with their eight grandchildren.
Knox takes with him many years of wisdom, knowledge and experience. He leaves behind a legacy of hard work, cooperation and compassion that will not soon be forgotten.
When asked what advice he would leave for his successors, he said, “Always have your glass half full. Every day is a new day. And remember: What you say is only 10 percent of what you are saying; the rest is body language and tone. Always make eye contact when you’re talking to somebody. A firm handshake will get you a long way.”
On behalf of our cooperative, our board, our employees and our membership, thank you for your service.