18 months without utilities, not one complaint, on the job every day
Here’s a Christmas story that took place over Thanksgiving that will warm your heart, a story that shows man’s humanity to man is alive and well despite all the terror in the world.
Meet IBEW Local 1 member Russell Schiermeier, 57, a vet who suffered a nervous breakdown while in the Navy. Shortly after his honorable discharge, he was in a car accident in which a friend was tragically killed. This compounded his mental anguish and physical condition; issues that still plague him today.
Despite his condition, Russ is able to do custodial work in the Hazelwood School District.
For the past eight years, he faithfully showed up for work. He didn’t have a car (can’t drive) but diligently took two busses to get to work. He was never late.
“A great employee,” said his supervisor, John Hasse, director of the custodial department.
THEN DISASTER STRUCK
Recently, Russ was injured while helping coworkers mechanically roll up a very heavy wrestling mat. His finger was caught in the roller causing sever lacerations, torn tendons and a broken bond. Hospitalization, surgery and several weeks of physical therapy followed. Throughout his trauma, his IBEW co-workers drove him back and forth to doctor appointments.
One day nearing the end of his recuperation period, Hasse tried to call to check up on him. No answer. That was unusual, so Hasse went to Russ’s home.
He not only found Russ, he found a nightmare.
No electricity, no running water, no gas, and no phone service, nothing. In delving into the crisis, Hasse discovered that the utilities had been cut-off for 18 months.
“It was basically a shelter, but he never complained to anyone. He just kept coming to work on time, everyday.”
A SECOND DISASTER
Russ’ bills hadn’t been paid; so all his utilities were cut-off.
Why now, after all the years of taking care of himself, did this happen?
Seems that Russ met a lady. And with ongoing physical and mental issues, and obviously happy to have a “girlfriend,” he did not realize that she was into drugs. She systematically drained Russ’s bank account and then left.
Checks began to bounce. But Russ simply didn’t recognize what was happening. And so, for 18 months, he made do. He came to work every day and didn’t tell anyone of his predicament.
A CALL FOR HELP ANSWERED
Hasse was not going to let this continue. He put out a call for help.
- $5 for the Fight jumped in and helped pay a major portion of the outstanding utility bills.
- Russ’ fellow employees and others in the school immediately began a fund drive to help pay off the balance of the utility bills which now were almost $2,000 in arrears.
- IBEW Local 1 immediately worked to restore the electrical connections for power. Often, when utility payments are in arrears, the utility physically disconnects power lines to make sure a delinquent person doesn’t reattach them to the home.
- The St. Louis Electrical Connection – a partnership between Local 1 and the National Electrical Contractors Associations (NECA) – paid for all the time, materials and parts needed to restore the connection.
To make sure this never happens again, Hasse set up a new bank account for Russ with direct automatic payments for all his utility bills.
SOMETHING TO BE THANKFUL FOR
Finally, to put a happy ending to this story, on Thanksgiving Day friends and co-workers enjoyed an entire Thanksgiving dinner — the traditional turkey and all the trimmings — cooked by Russ in his now “alive” home in Cool Valley as a way of saying “thank you” to everyone who reached out to help him. This was the first Thanksgiving dinner he had enjoyed in years, Hasse said with a smile in his voice.
“He received financial, transportation assistance to and from doctors visits and skilled labor assistance from his fellow IBEW members, Hazelwood school district custodians and maintenance employees,” Hasse told the Labor Tribune.
BROTHERHOOD AND KINDNESS
“It was truly amazing to see such kindness and brotherhood coming together to help someone in need,” Hasse said.
“Today, Russ is on the job, his home is functional. He’s a happy man again.”
Happy thanks to the “we care” efforts of Hasse, the staff of the maintenance department, IBEW local 1 (who has the custodian and maintenance workers organized) and the Electrical Connection.
Santa Claus is smiling on this group of wonderful people.
Merry Christmas Russ!
And Merry Christmas to all who reached out selflessly to make Russ’s Christmas bright.