By CARL GREEN
East St. Louis – When they start talking about the American dream, Dave Pagan’s name ought to be mentioned.
Pagan grew up in a small town and was heading for a life working in the coal mines near Pocahontas.
“I said, this ain’t no place for me,” he recalled.
Instead, he signed up – on Feb. 7, 1938 – with a Laborers’ local in Pocahontas and wound up working many years for Illinois Power.
It sounds like a common enough story, except that it happened 75 years ago. He’s still in the union, as a retiree, after a long and well-spent life.
Local 100 recently celebrated Pagan’s 75 years with a barbeque at the union hall in scenic Dutch Hollow, where Fairview Heights meets East St. Louis.
Wally Abernathy, president of the Retirees’ Council, introduced Pagan with a funny story about being an 18-year-old rookie and working with Pagan to operate a trencher attached to a bucking Jeep instead of something heavier.
Pagan then accepted the group’s applause graciously.
“Thank you, men,” he said. “It’s hell to get old, though. I’ll be 93 next week.”
THREE ACRES AND A HOUSE
When he was 40, Pagan bought three acres in Grantfork, just west of Highland in Madison County, and built a house there for he and his wife, Bonnie, and their son, John – leaving himself plenty of gardening space. In 1952, he shifted his membership to Local 100 and then, some 30 years ago, he accepted a retirement buyout from Illinois Power.
Pagan worked construction with Local 100 for a few more years and then retired for good. He still lives on his own in Grantfork, enjoying rabbit hunting, fishing, and gardening. Just this year, he canned 100 quarts of pickles and peppers.
He has a nephew, Dave Fenton of Highland, who looks in on him and helps him out now and then.
“He’s still pretty much on his own,” said Fenton, himself a member of Local 100 since 1960. “He took care of everyone else for a long time.”
Pagan wears a hearing aid and walks with a cane because of a bum knee, but he still gets along pretty well. He says he went fishing every day until he was 88.
When he thinks back on his life, his thoughts sometimes run to World War II, when he fought as part of the 78th Lightning Division during the Battle of the Bulge.
He recalled that as they landed in France, one buddy had a dark prediction. “He said ‘I’m gonna get killed before Christmas,’ ” Pagan recalled, noting that the friend survived along beside him – until Christmas Eve, when the man was killed. “I just made it, but one other guy got hit right beside me.”