IBEW 309 retirees put the ‘blitz’ in ‘blitz build’

IBEW LOCAL 309 RETREES (from left) Scott Nicholson, Bill Hagene, Don Herbeck, Brad Maes and Dan Sodam volunteered their time and talents for a “blitz build” of a new home in East St. Louis in a project coordinated by the East Side Heart & Home Family Center. – Labor Tribune photo

Retirees join Sheet Metal 268, Painters DC 58 in ‘Resurrection Park’

Illinois Correspondent

East St. Louis – For 24 years, a community group has slowly been building a neighborhood of new houses here that give hard-working residents a chance to turn their lives around.

This year, they have a powerful new ally, the retired members of IBEW Local 309, who recently installed the electrical work for the latest house to be built by the East Side Heart & Home Family Center.

In the community “blitz build,” ground was broken March 13, and on Saturday, May 13, more than 40 volunteers put up the walls. That allowed the five skilled and experienced electricians to step in on May 15 to do their part.

“They’re pretty good guys – they have been wonderful,” said Sister Carol Lehmkuhl, director of the agency, and its founder. “We haven’t had the privilege of meeting these people before, and we’re very happy they are joining the group.”

The leader of the electricians, Bill Hagene, said they were enjoying how efficiently the project was moving along.    

IBEW LOCAL 309 retiree Bill Hagene works on some wiring in the eaves of the garage as part of a “blitz build” of a new home in East St. Louis. – Labor Tribune photo

“They do things real fast here,” he said. “It’s been going real good, and they’ve got a good rapport with Ameren. The engineer was already out here, and we got approval last night.

“It’s due to having five good guys,” he added. “I’ve got guys who know what they’re doing and we knocked the hell out of this thing.”

The other guys are Scott Nicholson, Don Herbeck, Brad Maes and Dan Sodam, who have worked on

many projects before.

“Once we get the power on, which will be by the end of this week, they can have this all done on camera, and security will be done by whoever they hire,” Hagene said.

“This is the first time they’ve been working with us,” he added. “Before, they actually paid somebody to do the electrical, so they’re very glad to have us volunteer.”

Other union groups that are helping are Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 and Painters District Council 58. Also, some of the walls were pre-constructed across town by inmates in the carpentry program at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center.


East Side Heart & Home Family Center started out as two groups founded following the closing of Vincent Gray Alternative High School in the Olivette Park neighborhood on the city’s west side.

Sister Carol, who had been a teacher at the school, founded the Family Center in 1993 to bring people together to improve the lives of neighborhood residents and the community. In 1995, the housing program was formed to provide affordable quality homes, building one a year. The two groups worked cooperatively and finally merged in 2013.

Aside from housing, the group provides several educational programs – a summer youth program, GED tutoring, tuition assistance and job training.

The new house, on North 8th Street near the Exchange Avenue ramp from I-70, is the 16th house in the immediate neighborhood, which residents now call “Resurrection Park,” and the 21st overall for the program. It also has 16 more lots for future projects and has demolished nine derelict houses.   

Don Herbeck, an IBEW Local 309 retiree, reaches high to install wiring. – Labor Tribune photo

The neighborhood, which used to be known for prostitution, drugs and abandoned property, now looks like a pleasant suburban environment in any other town. Most of the houses were built by the program in this now-quiet corner of the city.

“It didn’t look anything like it does today,” said Lisa Saunders, housing director for the program.


Buyers get more than just a modestly priced, well-built home. Before the sale, they work with Saunders for three years to prepare for home ownership.

“We work on financial management, asset building, what it takes to be a homeowner,” she said. “If they need to improve their credit scores, we work with that. The goal is that after three years, they will be able to get their own home loan.”

Saunders said this home build has been proceeding smoothly, and she hopes the purchasing family will be able to move in the first week of July.

“We’re getting work done, the weather’s been very cooperative and the volunteers have just been fabulous,” she said.

Most of the past buyers are still living in their homes.

“We’re trying to build homes for people who wouldn’t necessarily have enough money to buy a home, so they can establish their credit and make a move upward, but we’re also trying to build a neighborhood,” said Sister Marianne Buhr of East Side Heart & Home.


  1. My father, Floyd Schwartz, retired from Local 309 in 1984 and unfortunately died just a few months later from cancer. He was heartbroken that the last few years he was so sick he couldn’t pick up his toolbox and go to work everyday. He trained many apprentices over the decades. Hopefully some in the 309 still remember his name and good work as the best journeyman who ever ran wires.


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