Sacrifice, dedication, and service—one lineman has it all.
Sacrifice, dedication and service—one lineman has demonstrated it all. Sacrificing a college career and family moments, dedicating his life and time to the Navy—RICK SMOOTS is such a man who overcame a period of hardship and demands. With the heart and strong determination to help others, he carried on to a long and successful career as he celebrated his 50-year anniversary as a lineman at FreeState Electric Cooperative on May 31, 2017.
Rick was the second eldest of five boys. He grew up in the small town of McLouth with his parents and brothers. He had always wanted to stay close to home because family is the most important aspect of his life—and always has been.
Rick met his wife, Debby Smoots, during his junior year at McLouth High School and her freshman year at Tonganoxie High School. They lived just a few miles from each other and spent weekends out with friends in Tonganoxie, where they met one evening. Even though they met at a young age, Rick and Debby met that night and never looked back.
"Now we have been married for 45 years," Rick said.
Their 45 years of marriage have not been without sacrifice. Rick began his career as a lineman after attending Washburn University for physical education and realizing it was not the path meant for him. After previous experience spraying vegetation underneath powerlines the summer before his freshman year at college, Rick was offered a job as a lineman for Leavenworth- Jefferson Electric Cooperative.
“This was around the time Perry Lake was being built and the electric cooperative could see a lot of expansion and growth in their service territory,” Rick said. “They noticed me and asked if I wanted to become a lineman for them and have on the job training—so I took it.”
The only problem—not going back to college made Rick eligible for the U.S. Military draft.
“I knew my number for the draft was coming up and that I would be drafted if I didn’t do something,” Rick said. “I didn’t want to be drafted into hand-to-hand combat, so I joined the Navy.”
Rick spoke to a Navy recruiter in Tonganoxie and enlisted into the Construction Battalion, or Seabee, on Feb. 6, 1969. After completing training in Gulfport, Mississippi, and being stationed at Port Hueneme, California, Rick was assigned to the Mobile Construction Battalion No. 10 and deployed to Vietnam later that year. Not even the military could deter Rick’s career as a lineman. He continued to learn and gain experience through construction assignments given to his battalion.
“The Seabees were the ones in charge of building the air strips in Vietnam and thatch huts for the men to live in,” Rick said. “We would also set up poles to run electricity to these buildings.”
While Rick served his country, LJEC was holding his spot as a lineman until his tour of duty was completed. He was released from the Navy on Aug. 5, 1971.
“As soon as I got out I came back home to work,” Rick said. “I’ve been here ever since, and it’s been a great local community to raise a family close to home.” Although Rick was able to come back to the town he called home, marry the love of his life on April 22, 1972, and continue his work as a dedicated lineman, his days of sacrifice and hard work were far from over. He always put others before himself—including the members of LJEC.
“They knew they could depend on him. He was always the first one to say, ‘I will go,’” Debby said. “He never turned down any request they asked of him.”
Debby admitted the beginning of their marriage was a di cult transition as she struggled to understand his need to work long nights and miss family functions to restore power outages. However, she began recognizing him as the committed and hard-working man he was.
“I became very proud of him and what he does,” Debby said. “To me, he is the last of the true American worker.”
While Rick has never regretted his decision to become a lineman, there were times it became difficult as family time was often sacrificed for the job.
“I missed a lot of sports events and the kids growing up through high school,” Rick said. “A lot of moments with the family had to be given up to keep the lights on.”
Rick’s dedication to being a lineman and serving others never went unnoticed as Debby said everyone recognizes Rick as the honest, sincere and passionate man he is, not only at home but at work. “His work ethic is above and beyond the average,” Debby said. “Just look at him now. He just had his retirement party and here he is going back to work to finish out the day.” Of the 50 years Rick worked as a lineman, 49 were for LJEC.
He finished his career by retiring from FreeState Electric, after LJEC consolidated with Kaw Valley Electric in January 2017. For members, the consolidation saves money. For Rick, the consolidation expanded his “family”—the linemen brotherhood— as FreeState’s east and west offices began working as one.
“I will miss the people I worked with the most,” Rick said. “They really have become my second family.” Rick plans to spend his retirement focusing on his family and attending all of the softball games, volleyball matches and rodeos he can so he is not missing any more of life’s little moments with his children, Marcy Smoots, Scott Smoots and his wife Kimberley, and his six grandchildren. FreeState Electric thanks Rick for his service to the cooperative and wishes him the best of luck and many family memories in the days to come. Congratulations on this rare milestone.