By CARL GREEN
Alton, IL – Death on the job is the nightmare of every worker and family, group of co-workers and friends left to pick up the pieces. Yet it still happens far too often.
Every April 28, on the Workers’ Memorial Day Observance, union members and supporters are reminded they must keep up the fight for safe workplaces, even as some politicians and employers are eager to relax regulations safeguards designed to protect workers on the job.
Speaking at this year’s memorial program, B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, said improvements made in worker protection, including rules implemented under President Obama, are under attack.
“We must educate our workers and union members about these threats, and mobilize and organize to preserve these hard-won gains,” Webb said. “We must work to elect candidates who support workers’ right to join a union and the right to safe jobs and fair pay for a day’s work.
“There’s nothing more central to our role as a union than to make sure our members go home to their families safe each and every day. That’s why we mourn for the dead – and fight like hell for the living.”
This year’s memorial, held at Gordon Moore Park, was particularly poignant because three family members – a father, a daughter and a wife, and a close friend and colleague, stepped up to share their experiences and their sorrow over the three workers killed on the job in the Metro East and southern Illinois in 2018. The workers’ names were added to the memorial plaque at the park.
Matthew Smith, 32, of Tilden in Randolph County, was electrocuted on Sept. 20 while welding on a job at Centralia Junior High School in Marion County. He was a member of Ironworkers Local 392 and had seven years of welding experience. He leaves his father, Rodney, and paternal grandparents, a sister and two brothers. He was buried in Coulterville City Cemetery. His obituary described him as a rider of motorcycles and four-wheelers.
Matthew Smith’s father, Rodney Smith, spoke at the service, describing his son as a fun-loving, kind and humble young man and a strong union member who wouldn’t be all that impressed with being memorialized in front of a big crowd.
“My boy was a good boy. He would say this is all unnecessary – that’s just the way he was,” the father said. “Life’s tough, life goes on. We all have choices, and now we all have to deal with this. It’s hard. It’s hard on my daughter, it’s hard on my grand-daughters. It’s hard on me.”
Matthew would be moved by the losses of the other families represented at the ceremony, his father said. “My heartfelt condolences to the other families, from my family to yours,” he said. “I know what y’all are dealing with. It’s tough. It’s real tough.
“I’m sure everybody’s loss is hard. That’s all I’ve got to say. Thank you for coming and God bless you.”
ROY ‘HILLBILLY’ EVANS
Roy Lewis “Hillbilly” Evans, 54, of Carrollton, in Greene County, died in the emergency room at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City on Dec. 13 after being injured in a fork-lift accident at American Steel, where he had worked for 15 years. He was a member of United Steel Workers Local 1063. He leaves his wife Vicki, daughters Mandi and Amanda and sons Jacob and Travis plus their spouses, four brothers, two mothers, five sisters and three brothers, plus three grandchildren and many in-laws. He was buried in Kane Cemetery, in Greene County. His family requested that casual dress be worn at his funeral, as would be his preference.
Amanda Triebes of Jerseyville spoke for the family and said Roy Evans had been more like a father than a stepfather to her.
“He’s my dad,” she said. “When I talk about my dad to my friends, I never say my step-dad. I always say ‘my dad.’
“A great man like no other – he was kind, funny, stubborn, and most of all he was loving. He took care of us in so many ways,” she said.
“From the start, he was always there, cheering me on, picking me up when I was down, but most of all loving me unconditionally. He taught me how to drive at 16, watched me graduate at 18, helped me move once or twice and walked me down the aisle at 22.
“When I think of all the things he has done for me, I realize how little I told him ‘Thank you.’
Amanda described the day when her mother called with the news that her dad had died. “I remember the instant heartbreak, the sound of her voice, the pain she was feeling,” she said. “All I could think was, ‘Why was the greatest man I knew taken from us? He didn’t deserve this. So why him?’ He wasn’t done teaching us things yet, and we weren’t done learning.”
And yet she drew chuckles from the crowd with her closing remark. “I’m going to leave you on this one note that he loved saying all the time: ‘Get a job!’ ”
Fire Captain Jacob “Jake” Ringering, 37, of the Godfrey Fire Protection District, died at Alton Memorial Hospital on March 5 after a house where he was fighting a fire collapsed onto him, injuring him and three others, who survived. He had been a firefighter since 2001 and joined Godfrey in 2010.He was president of Firefighters Local 1692 and a teacher and trainer of firefighters. He leaves his wife of 17 years, Allison, daughters Nora Marie and Elaina Lynn and a son, Logan Jacob, plus a brother, a sister, a grandmother and in-laws and other relatives. He was buried at Valhalla Memorial Park, Godfrey.
Lieutenant Chris Dennison of the Godfrey Firefighters said he and Ringering worked together for five years. “Jake taught me more about this job than I could ever have imagined,” he said. “Jake was more than just a great firefighter, he was a great teacher, mentor and leader. Somebody once said Jake could teach anyone to do anything. They were right. Every firefighter in our department, regardless of rank or time on the job, learned from Jake.”
Jake Ringering played a leading role in securing funding for a new fire truck and helped get a much-needed tax increase approved in a referendum, Dennison said. “Jake was a natural born leader, and firefighters followed him, not because of his rank or title, but because they believed in his leadership. It was the reason he served as our union president and fought so hard for us to have the proper equipment and manpower.”
Ringering was an inspiration to the other firefighters, Dennison said. “Jake loved his job, and his passion for it inspired more people than we can possibly know. He touched so many lives in the fire service, and I believe his legacy will live on for many years to come. Though Jake is gone, I know he is with us in our hearts. He was the best of us all and we will never forget him.”
THE FAMILY MAN
Allison Ringering described her husband’s love of family.
“Firefighting was his job, and his duty was to serve others within this community. He would not run away from danger. He would stay and defend them,” she said. “He gave freely of his time, his talent and, ultimately, his life, for his neighbor.”
But there was more to Jake than his work, she said. “Our family was the center of his world and the source of his happiness. He instilled the belief into all his guys that family comes first, and this was something he lived in his everyday life. “He would encourage me, comfort me, and treat me not only as his equal but as his best friend. My love for Jake grew even greater as I watched him as a father. His favorite rank was dad. He adored our children and made sure their every need was provided for.
“He was the type of dad who was patient, and showed his children calm and steady re-assurance. He cherished playing with them, laughing with them and protecting them.”
THE FAMILY OF LABOR
Circuit Judge Sarah Smith, the featured speaker, noted that Jake Ringering was the brother of a close friend and that his memorial services were a deeper and more emotional experience than many funerals.
“You didn’t just hear those generic terms, like he was such a great guy and will be missed, but instead you heard such vivid stories with such great detail about what he did, what he loved doing, that he taught new firefighters with such a passion, that he served his community with pride, that he loved his family and dedicated his life to his profession and would risk his life for anyone in the community,” she said.
All three of the deceased workers will be remembered well, she said. “It’s no coincidence that the members of unions call each other brother and sister. Because, as my friends in Labor will tell you, it is a family. In fact they often spend more time with each other than they do with their own families. So today we are here to honor members of our family – members like Roy and Matthew and Jake, who left us way too soon. “Today I’m honored to be a friend of this wonderful family and celebrate days like today with you. Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”