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Wilkes celebrates 50th anniversary

by on May 6, 2014
Current and former employees celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilkes Power Plant.

(Story by Kacee Kirschvink)

Laughter permeated the lodge at the Wilkes Power Plant, as some of the first Wilkes employees gathered with other retirees and current plant workers recently to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the plant, as well as 50 years without a lost-time accident.

A display of items that were popular in 1964 — including Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots, Lucky Charms cereal, Pepsi and Brut cologne — were near the podium where employees reminisced about days gone by.

Many folks shared memories shared about the plant, including retired Wilkes Plant superintendent and the plant’s first maintenance foreman Raymond Pasley, retired Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) director of production and startup engineer Terral Whetstone and station electrician Jimmy Holland.

“On Aug. 16, 1964, two months after the plant dedication, Wilkes had an open house to the public. Eight hundred people attended,” Holland said. “Growing up in Avinger, my parents brought me out here. I remember going out on the boiler, going up to the fourth elevation and Mr. Tabor, who used to be a machinist here, opening up this little glass porthole, and I could see the fire in there.

“I thought that was the most amazing thing,” Holland recalled. “Little did I know that I’d be up here 40 years later, when it was below freezing or over 100 degrees, trying to get one of those things lit!”

Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer, who grew up near the plant, also shared some stories.

The Wilkes grandchildren pose in front of a plaque of Frank Marshall Wilkes.

“As a 4-Her in Upshur County, I learned a great deal of work and did a good piece of my growing up in my formative years right here in this lodge,” she said. “I attended on Saturday morning a Principles of Electricity workshop. The directors came over and someone helped me wire a lamp that hung over my bed. It had the 4-H seal in the middle, and it hung over my bed until I graduated high school. It was there the whole time, and everytime I looked at that lamp, I thought of the Wilkes Plant.”

A special part of the anniversary celebration was the attendance of several of Frank Marshall Wilkes’ family members, including his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The family was presented framed photos depicting the grandchildren in front of the bronze Wilkes plaque that was published in a 1964 edition of The Southwestern Magazine and a similar one they took on the day of the 50th anniversary celebration.

In a prayer said before dinner, Presbyterian minister Howard Edington — who is Wilkes’ granddaughter’s husband — blessed the plant and thanked God for Wilkes and the plant’s many safe years of operation.

When it comes to Wilkes’ impressive safety record, plant employees described themselves as family.

” I spend more time with these people than I do anyone else. We don’t like each other sometimes, but that’s OK too,” Holland said. “That’s one reason we have no lost-time accidents, because we look out for each other. We always have. You look out for your family. You take care of them. You look at their needs and talk to them. That’s just what we do.”

After a couple of hours of reminiscing and laughing, Jim Peck, plant manager, closed down the celebration by summing up the future for Wilkes.

“This is a milestone on a continuing journey. Fifty years is great, but tomorrow is what counts. One moment of inattention is all that it takes to get somebody hurt,” Peck said. “We’re at about 3.8 million hours of no lost time. In about another four years, we’ll be at 4 million, and we’ll have another party. How about that?”


From → News From AEP

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