By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
Larry “Butch” Hepburn, former organizer/business representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and charter member of the North County Labor Club, retired last week as the club’s sergeant-at-arms, after 33 years of constant and instrumental involvement.
Hepburn helped found the Labor Club in 1988, along with Dick Kellett, Dave “Fitz” Fitzgerald, Mike Walsh and Dick Sullivan. The club became a model for political involvement and community outreach and helped spawn Labor clubs across the state and the nation. He is, and has always been, a Labor traditionalist, believing that being a union member is a calling to a wider range of involvement for the greater good.
When it comes to union activities in the community, Hepburn has been there. Whether it was for charity work volunteering labor, or working on elections to support worker-friendly candidates and propositions, Hepburn is described as “a man to whom you couldn’t say ‘no.’”
Now, at age 79, Hepburn says it’s time to turn over the reins to the club’s younger members.
“It feels strange,” he said. “But I’ll be around. I’ll still be at every meeting.”
Even so, Labor Club President Fred Searcy, director of Minority Recruitment with Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, said it’s bittersweet seeing Hepburn step down from his leadership position.
“He is one of the best,” Searcy said. “He’s one of the last of the charter members of this group. We will miss him as sergeant-at-arms, but he will still be a member of the club.”
Hepburn’s position will be filled by Steve Muehling, a business representative with IBEW Local 1. A 34-year member of Local 1, Muehling has been a member of the North County Labor Club since 2011.
“I am honored to replace Butch,” Muehling said. “But I’ll tell you, I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”
Senator Tim Green, a former Democratic state legislator who served in the Missouri House from 1989 to 2003, and in the Missouri Senate from 2005 to 2013, said everything he was able to accomplish for Labor was a result of the support he received from Hepburn.
“I got where I did because Butch Hepburn believed in me,” said Green. “He was my campaign manager throughout my entire political career. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Green was 23 years old when he first ran for office. Everyone told him he was too young, but Hepburn believed in him, telling him to “go for it,” and that he’d be behind him all the way.
“I am a better person having him as a friend, and always a better politician,” Green said. “He has always been passionate about Labor and politics, and when you had Butch on your side, you had all of Butch’s friends and associates on your side.”
Tom Sansevere, a former president of the North County Labor Club, said Hepburn taught him everything about politics.
“He has done more for the Labor Movement than anyone I know,” Sansevere said. “He loves the Labor Movement, and it shows.”
Labor Club Secretary Frank Schuette said Hepburn has provided a constant stream of knowledge and help to Club members and fellow officers.
“Butch’s experience and involvement in this Club will be felt forever,” Schuette said. “And when you look back, he was part of an All-Star group.”
HE BUILT THAT
Like so many building trades members, Hepburn can drive in the city of St. Louis and point out the buildings and projects he worked on during his long career as an electrician, including one project that overshadows the city of St. Louis. Hepburn worked on the Gateway Arch, starting as a second-year apprentice making $1.75 per hour. He continued there for over two years running wires for the Arch’s interior lighting and installation of the elevators.
Hepburn said those working on the project didn’t consider themselves artists or extraordinary craftsmen but just members of the union building trades who were building something that would last forever.
Now more than 50 years old, the Arch has withstood the test of time, a sparkling stainless steel monument to Hepburn and his union brothers and sisters who built it.
“At the time, I thought it was a heck of a waste of money, but it’s probably one of the most visited monuments in the world,” Hepburn said. “Russia’s Red Square used to be ahead of it, but only because the Communist government required residents to visit.
“Working on the Arch wasn’t for everyone,” he said. “A lot of the guys got motion sickness because as the Arch went up, the clouds moved overhead, giving the feeling of movement inside the close quarters of the steel triangles. It was a tough job. Everything you did kept going up and turning. It took stamina. Just getting to the location of where you could work was something. We’d walk 500 feet of steps just to get where we needed to be.”
Hepburn’s brother, Bill, another former IBEW Local 1 business representative, also worked on the job.
“I think we’re the only brothers who worked on the Arch,” Butch Hepburn said.
North County Labor Club is finally meeting again after a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The club meets the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Machinists Aerospace Lodge, at 212 Utz Lane in Hazelwood. Union members are always invited and encouraged to attend.