Bringing Light After the Storm

Local businesses band together to restore power to a veteran’s home

Story and photos by Craig Reed

From left, Zach Goodenough, Glenn Benson, Julie Stephens and Dirk Gilliam gather at Glenn’s home to celebrate the project that restored power to the veteran’s property after an ice storm destroyed power lines.

The cold and darkness that invaded Glenn Benson’s house has finally faded into the past.

The heat works. The stove top and oven are available for cooking. The refrigerator keeps food cold. When Glenn hits a wall switch, the room brightens.

Until recently, that was not the case. An ice storm in December 2016 resulted in broken poles, downed lines and no power to the house off Bailey Hill Road. There was also no power to the nearby pumphouse or shop.

“There was approximately three-quarters to an inch of ice on everything,” Glenn recalls of that devastating morning. “When I woke up, there was no electricity. When I looked outside, the weight of the ice had overwhelmed the power poles and snapped them at the ground. The service lines from the meter to the buildings were ripped out. It was a total devastation of the electrical system.”

Within a week, Lane Electric Cooperative had replaced the four poles and lines to the meter, but then it was Glenn’s responsibility and expense to have about 200 feet of lines installed from the meter to the buildings.

Glenn, a 14-year U.S. Air Force veteran, admits he couldn’t afford the cost. He was 62 and working as a security officer.

“Between gas to get to work and basic living expenses, I didn’t have money to do any repairs,” he says. “I was in survival mode.” Rather than live in a cold house, Glenn moved to an adjacent property to live in a house with electricity that had belonged to his parents. He had traveled from California several times to visit his elderly parents before moving to the area in 2004.

A simple flip of a switch restored Glenn Benson’s life. In November, this veteran’s home had its electric power connected.

“It took me a while to address the problems at my house,” says Glenn, a Vietnam War veteran who was a tail gunner on B-52D bombers, flying at least 30 flights out of Guam. “I’m a disabled veteran with shoulder issues and I have military combat PTSD. I’m very limited in my upper body strength, so between my age and physical handicap, I couldn’t do the work.”

Glenn admits it took him quite a while to come to terms with the situation and to look for ways to solve the problem. He was finally pushed to make inquiries after his house was burglarized for the third time despite him putting oil lamps and lanterns in the home for light in hopes of discouraging trespassers and burglars. He lost tools and a motorcycle to intruders.

“I couldn’t stand to look at it for quite a while because it was so depressing, but then you add in the burglaries, and I felt even worse,” Glenn says.

Glenn made a few visits to the Lane Electric office to ask for help and advice.

“He came in and said, ‘I’m going to lose my house if I can’t get electricity,’” says Julie Stephens, the co-op’s credit and member service supervisor.

Lane Electric tried to find an electrician to help, but that effort failed. Julie then remembered she had seen bills to Lane Electric from St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County, an organization that provides services to veterans. She made a call and was connected to Zach Goodenough, the supportive services for veteran families manager for St. Vincent.

Glenn wasn’t eligible for the program because he wasn’t homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless, but turning him away wasn’t an option. Zach, a Marine veteran, made calls within St. Vincent’s network to find help for Glenn.

“We work with veterans to provide them home ownership,” Zach says. “For Glenn, he had already obtained that goal. We know how much work and discipline it took for Glenn to get where he’s at. So how can we keep Glenn in that home? We don’t want him to be a homeless veteran.”

Zach contacted four electrical companies. Weiland Electric Division owner Dirk Gilliam and project manager Bo Hart responded. Both men have veterans in their families.

From left, Julie Stephens from Lane Electric, Dirk Gilliam from Weiland Electric and Zach Goodenough from St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County worked with Glenn, right, to help reconnect power to his home.

“We felt it was part of our duty to help Glenn out,” Bo says. “We hope most people would feel the same way. He’s done so much for us as a veteran, as all veterans have.

“It was a little concerning considering the scope of work needed, but it definitely was not something we were going to walk away from.”

Work started in November, a few weeks after Weiland Electric was contacted. The company donated labor and supplies, Lane Electric donated brush cutting work and supplies, and a Lane County inspector approved the work. Financial donations were made through St. Vincent for the project that was completed in a few weeks. The final cost was about $10,000.

Glenn began cleaning up and moving back onto the property in December.

“I am very, very humbled and thankful for the graciousness and charity that Lane Electric, St. Vincent and Weiland Electric have gifted to me,” Glenn says. “I have to include God. This has made such a wonderful and positive difference in my life that there are no words sufficient to adequately describe it. I’m just so thankful.

“I would definitely advise other veterans to use the St. Vincent program. It was a lifesaver for me, totally life altering. There was no charge to me, and when the work was finally done and I flipped a light switch in the house, I was in a state of disbelief. It was so wonderful, almost unbelievable.”

“It’s the best feeling I’ve had in a long time,” Bo says. “Just to hear Glenn’s response to getting back into his house was pretty slick.”

“It was very heartwarming that we were able to help him,” Julie says.