After 27 years of helping to keep the lights on in Estherville, Mitch Eveleth is retiring and ready for a new chapter in life
The public is cordially invited to wish Mitch Eveleth well at his Retirement Party on Friday, April 2, 2021 from 2-4 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 4 N. Seventh St.
A beam of light shines brightly on us while traveling on the road of life and the brilliance will eventually shift to illuminate retirement – as is the case for Mitch Eveleth, superintendent of Estherville’s Electric Distribution Department / Power Plant. No doubt he will welcome the upcoming lazy days to spend glorious time with his beloved family, fish the region’s beautiful lakes and traverse over our landscape with his enthusiastic hunting dog.
An Estherville native, Mitch remembers looking for the ticket out of town upon high school graduation. He found it … only to return to his roots years later and discover career contentment in illuminating his hometown.
Since he has elected to retire on April 2 from his Electrical Distribution Superintendent position, Mitch is shedding some light on how he chose his career path.
“I once had to do a report for school and the selected topic was my Dad. I have always remembered how he started it and I give him credit for this beginning …’When I was born, I was very young. When I started school, I didn’t know much.”‘
Graduating from Estherville High School in 1975, Eveleth was a Fagre Construction employee and quite confident that bricklaying was the golden ticket to leave town.
This idea quickly faded into the sunset as Mitch bumped into a friend who found enjoyment working in Alaska. “He had gone through the line school in Jackson, MN, and had gotten a job building line on the Alaskan pipeline. In one year, he purchased a house, truck and an airplane!”
As his friend shared the wonderful stories and photos of building line in some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery, Eveleth was impressed to the point that he knew what he was going to pursue for his life’s work.
“One of the interesting things about line work back then was companies needed guys everywhere. That meant I could find a place that was close to what I really wanted to do – SKI! My first job was in Gering, NE, just a short drive to Denver and all the skiing I could handle! It didn’t take long to realize Gering was not the place for me; so after two years, I obtained a job with Intermountain REA out of Sedalia, CO. The trip up to the mountain top was considerably shorter!”
Eveleth said that working for IREA was exactly what he dreamt about; it meant being surrounded by mountains and working unbelievably hard while doing crazy things. “We would climb up, drill rock, load the hole with explosives which we set off and eventually dug out a hole, we would then drag up a pole to be set by hand before we climbed up to the next one.”
He remembered the difficulties surrounding work schedules during spring snow storms. “This is when we lived out of our trucks for days. I will say that learning how to snowshoe in 3-4 feet of snow was not fun.”
Mitch explained that he was taken to the top of the mountain and told, “Put these on, keep your feet apart, don’t step on the other one and we will pick you up at the bottom.” His first experience sounds like it was fraught with difficulties. “The first time I used them more as a shovel to dig myself out of the hole I was in after falling head first into the 3-4 feet of snow mentioned above!”
Turning to the serious side of the employment in the Centennial State, Eveleth said IREA was a very progressive company. It was the largest REA west of the Mississippi. They had the best equipment for building line and the newest and greatest equipment for providing service. The experience I gained with IREA made me the lineman I am today. It allowed me to move into the position of superintendent with confidence here in Estherville.”
Eveleth decided to move back home in the 1990s and reflected upon many of the strides made locally to enhance the distribution of electricity. “Most apparent would be the amount of overhead we have converted and the removal of the 2400 volt circuits and satellite substations through town. The first steps to upgrade a system are to do away with that voltage and move to a 12.5 KV system. This was being done when I hired on as a lineman for Pete Redinius. I owe Pete a debt of gratitude for taking a chance on a young guy looking for a change. The hardest part for me was not saying what I think.”
He relished his days as superintendent. “I would say the best part of being the superintendent is just having the opportunity to put things together; figuring the way out of problems whether it was personnel, new line construction or issues outside the department such as Sweet Corn Days, concerts or other community activities. The credit for a job well done ALWAYS goes to those under me because their work ethic is undeniable.”
During his career, there have been two instances that were harrowing. “The first one was a few weeks into my first job in Gering. I was in a bucket and my foreman was on the pole across the street. We were pulling an overhead guy wire and I was on the hoist. They kept telling me to take up one more click on the hoist. It was so tight I couldn’t push it anymore because the bucket would move farther away.”
Mitch recalls repositioning himself in the bucket because he was pulling the handle and was leaning out far enough to compensate for the bucket movement when he pulled on the hoist. “As I took up the last click, the anchor point broke and everything flew across the road and down into the 3 phase underbuild. The flash and arc was enough to question if I had the right job. And it wasn’t until our coffee break that I realized that I was in front of the hoist with that last click. If the anchor point had broken then, I would not be here today.”
Eveleth commitment to safety is paramount. “I have always stressed to the guys that it is not the electricity that will get you; it’s the unbelievable tension and strain that you encounter.”
The second experience, although not as life threatening, was when I closed an elbow in on a 3 phase switch with a bad module. “I was by myself at about 11 p.m. The module blew apart and I was forcefully knocked back about 15 feet. It was very loud and very bright. I went around isolating and getting people’s power back on. I went about a quarter of a mile when some guys at a party came up and asked if I heard that loud explosion. I told them I was only 8 feet away when the blast occurred. I ended up going to the emergency room on the way back to the shop because I couldn’t hear.”
He shared the flip side from his work experience. “One of the most satisfying feelings and really one of the coolest sights ever was also during a long outage in Colorado. People had been out for a week and we had been up and down mountains trying to clear branches off and put lines back up in place. We were high up over a valley at about 3 a.m. We had repaired a line and made the 2-hour walk back to the truck. We called on the radio and told them to energize the line. One minute we were looking down in this big black hole of a valley. The next thing all these lights came on and it was simply amazing! The big black hole just glowed. We just stood by the truck and commented how beautiful it looked!”
He continued, “All in all, I will miss doing line work, miss the crews and all the people I have met through my job. It is always nice to be part of a great place to work. At the last place I worked, we had a party that included a potato launcher and I think Greg (Van Langen) knows a thing or two about them. There is one thing I have told many people over the years and that is when I left Estherville in 1977, I swore I would never come back. Turns out “never” is only 18 years. Now there is no place I’d rather be!”
And the City of Estherville certainly benefited with his decision. “Mitch is a principled man who has high expectations for himself and those around him. That quality is demonstrated daily in an efficient and productive department,” said Estherville City Administrator Penny Clayton. “We are grateful that he chose to come home and share his expertise and electrical knowledge, working in the City Electrical Department for the last 27 years. He is a dedicated and hard-working employee, and we will miss him. Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement!”
Mitch and Joan have been married for 26 years. “We have four wonderful children, Angela, Kurt, Christi and Ashley, and together we have blended into a unique and happy family. We have been blessed with six grandkids. All of our kids have been successful in what they’ve chosen to do with their lives and we’re proud of all of them.”
As for the future, Mitch said it best with this: “Joan & I will do more of what we do now without any restrictions. We will play more golf together, travel to see the kids and go on some trips we’ve wanted to do. I also plan to get caught up with my drawings. I hope to do more works of art and maybe participate in a few art shows. Simply put, I will mostly do whatever I want when I want, thanks to retirement!”