Fifty years of service
For Garland Jones, coming to work has been the key to a long and happy life.
By Michael Cornelison
When Garland Jones started working at Joe Wheeler EMC, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin were not household names. The Beatles were still together, and Lyndon Johnson was President. A lot has changed in the last 50 years, but none of the changes have been able to slow down Joe Wheeler EMC's longest-serving employee.
A lifetime of work
Garland began working when he was seven years old, traveling to Michigan with his family. "We went in the summer of 1950 to pick fruit to keep from going hungry," he told me. "I wasn't old enough to do a lot of work, but I did start working. We went every summer for twelve years." The work ethic acquired as a child in the orchards and hay fields of Michigan has stuck with Garland to this day. While JWEMC is his primary job, Mr. Jones has plenty else to keep him busy. He's a farmer, landowner, and a proud grandfather. "I wish he would slow down sometimes, but that's just who he is," his wife, Doris, told me over dinner.
When I ask why he keeps doing this, he gives me what seems to be his standard answer. "I feel like the longer I stay here, the longer I'll stay above ground." I get the impression while riding with him that there's another reason – family.
He enjoys being able to give opportunities to his children and grandchildren that were not available to him growing up and credits his job at Joe Wheeler EMC for helping to make this possible. He takes the whole family out to dinner on Sundays. "Sometimes it may just be five or six of us, sometimes it's 14 or more," he tells me. He's built houses for his children, Marsha and Jarrod "Jody" and is in the process of putting all four of his grandkids – Lauren, Kaitlyn, Toby, and Josie Rae – through school. All of this, and more, he credits in large part to his work for JWEMC. "I enjoy doing for my family, and I couldn't have done it all without Joe Wheeler," he said.
Joe Wheeler EMC
In the fall of 1967, Garland found himself in an unfamiliar spot – unemployed. After working for a while at the Moulton Shirt Factory, he was fired for joining the Union. While working odd jobs to make ends meet, his uncle, who worked for JWEMC at the time, encouraged him try to get on at the co-op. On October 17, 1967, Garland Jones started reading meters at the Moulton office of JWEMC. "You just went out and read as many meters as you could. You had to walk fast, and I did so I could read meters fast."
At times, Doris felt like she was an employee too. "There were times, before cell phones and all, when Garland would be working in the evenings, and I would have to take the calls from people whose power was out, and they weren't always happy."
At one point Garland even considered leaving Joe Wheeler EMC. After getting a letter of recommendation and preparing to leave, a friend talked him into staying. "Jill Burks changed my mind, and I've been so thankful she talked me into staying," he told me. Soon after he took on a new position as a serviceman at the co-op.
The Cutoff Man
The principal job of a serviceman at the co-op is to set meters and turn power on, and off when needed. One of the tougher duties is having to cut off the electric service to people who haven't paid their bill. This unenviable aspect of the job has earned those who do it the moniker of "the Cutoff Man." For the people on Garland Jones' list, this is not so much a derogatory name as it is a term of endearment. I told him of the receptionist who noticed I worked for Joe Wheeler EMC and had nothing but praise. "I just love my cutoff man," she said.
As I rode around with Garland, watching and listening to him interact with the people on his list, I began to understand why they held the man who was there to turn off their power, and everything that goes with it, in such high regard. He treats everyone with respect. "Well, we all have bad moments," he said. "I think me being raised with nothing, I guess, helps me understand. I know that to a lot of people a couple of days can make all the difference." To this end, he's in his office every morning by 6, calling the people on his cutoff list to give them a chance to make arrangments.
This is not to say that he lets people off. I watched him cut the power off to a man's house who had told him he was going to pay. As we were leaving the man came up to the truck window and apologized for him having to come back out. Garland just has that effect on people. He credits his philosophy in dealing with people – be nice, talk straight, and treat everyone with respect.
After 50 years, and more than 1,000,000 miles driven through Lawrence County, most people would be ready to retire, but not Garland. He told me more than once he hopes we can do this again in 10 years. "Why would I stop now," he asks, "I feel like I'm making my life longer, I'm helping my family and I enjoy it." I have no doubt I'll get to do this again for his 60th anniversary and I look forward to it. Congratulations Garland for 50 years of service, and counting.