If you swing by the OPALCO Warehouse on Lopez Island on any day of the week, chances are you will run into Steve Dengler. He will be talking on the phone, organizing upcoming jobs, or chit chatting with fellow Lopezians who may have questions about their electrical service.
Steve has been a staple at the Lopez site for almost 40 years. Steve moved to Lopez in 6th grade so his father could become the first doctor on the island. He graduated from Lopez High School and opted to stay on the island. He worked for a few years fishing and doing construction jobs where he was laid off during the winter months.
He started working part time at OPALCO for $7.50/hour. It was less than what he could make in construction, but the possibility of a long-term position could provide more stability, so he decided to stick with it. He became good friends with the OPALCO team, which was just two to three guys in those days. After a tragic plane crash that Steve and Tina witnessed, where three people died, one of which was the Line Foreman that Steve worked with at OPALCO, Steve stepped up to work full-time as a Journeyman Lineworker Apprentice. A lineworker apprenticeship takes four years and requires full time work in addition to studies.
During this time, Steve met his wife Tina and said he knew, “she was a keeper.” They spent those early years living in a double-wide trailer and working to earn enough money to build a house of their own.
By the storm of ’89, Steve was a full Journeyman Lineman. The crew worked straight for almost three weeks as parts of the island remained without power. His wife, Tina, was pregnant with their first son during the storm and his General Foreman at the time would check on her to make sure she had enough firewood while Steve and team worked night and day to get the system repaired from what was called a 100-year storm.
Steve’s early days at OPALCO were a different time at OPALCO. It was before the union was in place and Steve describes it as “mud, blood, beer and outages.” After the big storm (which was followed by another big storm in 1991) things began to change. Doug Bechtel had taken the helm and started to modernize and underground the system. Another big change was that the union was voted in by the staff at OPALCO.
“It’s been a good career, that I was able to go places within the company. You get close with the guys you work with – you have to trust them with your life, and it creates good friendships over the years. There are grueling nights, you miss birthdays and your kids ball games but that’s what you sign up for and you know the work you are doing is important,” says Steve about his career. He likes working outside, running equipment, and working in the community to get things done. His in-depth knowledge of the community helps keep things running smoothly on Lopez and outer islands – where all of the electricity that powers the San Juan Islands comes through. Steve became Line Foreman in 1994, shortly after he and Tina moved into the house they built and, in 2014, was promoted to General Foreman on Lopez.
“Not everyone needs to be a lineman,” says Steve when asked about advice to those looking for a career in the industry. “There is a lot of work to be done at a utility and they are all good jobs. A big benefit of doing a lineworker apprenticeship is that you get paid to get trained versus having to pay to go to college.”
Steve is an avid fisher, hunter, and pilot (he got his pilot’s license right out of high school). He has two sons and two grandkids. Someday, Steve plans to retire and is looking forward to not answering the phone all the time, spending time with his grandkids and wife, visiting his hunting cabin in Eastern Washington, and getting some projects done at home.
In the meantime, you can find Steve at the Lopez warehouse celebrating his 40th year at OPALCO.