Heartwarming letter applies to all

Photo courtesy of Scott Gates/NRECA/ Lineman Statue in offices of NRECA

A  heartwarming letter sent as a thank you to co-op linemen from Arkansas from a victim of Hurricane Sandy is making the rounds through co-ops across the country.  While it was sent to one co-op, it applies to all of the brave folks who leave their own families behind to take care of their neighbors in need.  It’s also a tremendous testimony to The Cooperative Difference.

Dear Steven Hall,

I wrote to you and gave you a quick idea of my gratitude. Here is a clearer picture of the men you employ.
Richard Frisenda

On the day the nor’easter arrived, a crew of linemen from North Arkansas Electric Cooperative also arrived on our street, and in absolutely horrendous and dangerous conditions, spent the entire day and evening working to replace a pole and transformer that had come down in front of our home. In spite of the wind and driving snow, they remained out there working until it simply became too unsafe for them to continue.

They returned the next morning, and told me that were going to do everything they could to get our power restored by the end of the day. In the course of my conversation with the crew later that evening, after they had restored power, I learned that for the past four nights they had been sleeping on the floor of the old Jericho Fire Department – no cots, no blankets, and no showers. The new fire house across the street already had 70 utility workers camping out on the floor, where all those men shared only 2 showers. This particular crew had just been told that they should drive to Brookhaven that evening, where they could sleep at a National Guard facility, and they asked me how far that was. When I told them it was an hours drive from here, they were not too happy.

I was appalled. These men were working outside on electrical lines for 16 hours a day, dangerous work in the best of circumstances, and at they end of the day they did not even have the comfort of a hot shower and a decent night’s rest. I felt ashamed that they had driven 1,300 miles to help Long Islanders, and this was how they were being treated. Told to now drive an additional hour after their 16 hour work day, to sleep on yet another hard floor.

I told these four men that they were welcome to spend the night at my house. My wife and I opened up our home to them because we felt it was the right and decent thing to do. It is because of the work they did restoring our power that we were able to offer them a place to enjoy a hot shower and a warm, comfortable place to sleep. They ended up staying with us for three nights, and it was one of the best experiences we ever had. These men were incredibly respectful to me, my wife and daughter, and we enjoyed getting to know them. They shared stories and photos of their families and children, and by the end of their stay we had become friends. My son and I have every intention of accepting their invitation to visit them this summer in Arkansas

They were finally able to locate an available hotel room at the Viana Hotel in nearby Westbury, but I told them they were welcome to return to my home if they were unable to keep that room for the length of time they were here in NY.

I eventually had the opportunity to meet all 25 men who came here from Arkansas, and I will never forget each of these men.

One night one of the men from NAEC that had been staying at my home said they would love to see New York City before they returned to Arkansas. All the men were hoping they would be able to find the time prior to going home, and I told them I would love to be their personal tour guide if they were able to have a day to do so.

On Wednesday, November 14th at 9:00AM I received a phone call that they were being released and were able to go to the city. One of them asked me to meet them at 10:00 AM at the Viana. We then drove to the Fox Hollow Inn and met up with the 21 other men from Arkansas.

We boarded shuttles buses to the Syosset train station and boarded the 11:15 AM train into Penn Station. I was told that none of the men had ever ridden on a train before.

They all said they wanted to see and pay their respects to the World Trade Center victims, and they wanted to see the Statue of Liberty.

They prayed and cried at St. Pauls Church in lower Manhattan, where there is a memorial and is located directly across from the World Trade Center. They wanted to see the reflecting pools at the Freedom Tower, which normally requires passes that are issued before you arrive. After speaking to a policeman on duty at the site, and explaining the situation, I was able to get them into the memorial where they viewed the water falls where each of the victims names are etched into the granite.

This was the first time I personally had been in that area since September 15th, 2001, and I had no intention of ever going back there. As a Police Lieutenant I had been assigned to the Trade Center disaster for several days. Having these men with me helped me overcome some images I have had locked up in the back of my head.

To watch these men tour New York City was something that will stay with me forever. Most amazing was the way every single New Yorker we encountered was so gracious and generous to these men. From the conductor on the LIRR who let them ride for free, the subway booth attendant who also let them ride for free, the Staten Island Ferry employees who held they ferry for them so they wouldn’t miss it, etc. I could go on and on with all the random acts of kindness they were shown.

They made me laugh all day long, and they made me realize that by extending my welcome to them I had made some friends for life.

On the evening of the day they left to return home, I received a call from one of them just to thank me again. I told him I couldn’t talk to him at the moment because I was at the emergency room with my daughter, who was having a medical problem. He told me that if my family needed them, they would turn right around and return if they could help us in any way. They were 12 hours away at that point, but they absolutely meant it.

Since then, I have received too many phone calls and text messages to count, from all these men as well as their family members, thanking me and my family for bringing them into our home.

What they don’t realize is that I had the greatest time in my life.

Rich Frisenda

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