An designer's rendering of the national monument to fallen linemen to be constructed in Freeland, Pa., which will include a memorial garden, rodeo grounds, playground, parking and headquarters for NSUJL.

A Monument to Fallen Lineworkers

May 20, 2022
Construction is expected to begin this summer in Pennsylvania for the National Memorial for Fallen Line Workers, spearheaded by the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen.

What was once a field of overgrown grass and weeds, junk cars, dilapidated structures and scrap wood will soon be transformed into a national monument to honor line workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who have died on the job.

The National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen (NSUJL) is celebrating the beginning of construction on the National Monument to Honor Fallen Lineworkers after a long search for the right property.

A monument and memorial garden, rodeo grounds and headquarters for NSUJL will be located on 11 acres near Interstate 80 in Freeland, Pa., about halfway between Scranton and Allentown.

The monument will “not only represent line workers who have given the ultimate sacrifice, but also be a place of comfort and peace to those they have left behind,” says Rae Johnson, the organization’s founder and president. 

Place of Peace

Philadelphia-based DesignBlendz recently completed the first rendering of what the monument will look like. It will feature several utility poles with signs signifying the year and a plaque for each one containing with the names of fallen lineworkers.

The rendering shows a central fountain and walkways leading to the monument and memorial garden. A playground, pavilion and parking are also included.  

This project is primarily funded by donors through a capital campaign launched in 2020 called “Legacy for Lineworkers.” The project has, even as it kicked off during a worldwide pandemic, raised more than $880,000 -- well over the initial $750,000 goal.

The site search itself took 4 years, as the group wanted something with enough open land that didn’t need to be cleared. NSUJL’s board of directors closed on the property in March 2020, but 3 hours later the state was shut down with a state-at-home order from the governor.

While the pandemic waged on, Johnson and a number of IBEW members spend 2 months – during the week and weekends – getting rid of the trash, cars and scrap material. More than 100 tons of trash was hauled away, which doesn’t include the vehicles.  

NSUJL spent $65,000 of its own money to pay for the cleanup, but donated labor and services made a big difference, said Johnson – including help that came from PPL Corp., a public utility that provides services to 2.5 million customers.

NSUJL had to work out a number of details with Foster Township planners and supervisors before they received approval. Some neighbors expressed concern about potential traffic, noise and property values, even as the property itself had fallen into disrepair and was an eyesore. Johnson says many other residents and township officials were supportive of the project.

The organization also had to work through numerous permitting requirements with the state because of the amount of square acreage being modified. Building permits will be requested soon and Johnson says construction will hopefully begin this summer if there are no further snags or delays in the process.

Mission Critical

The amount raised by NSUJL means there will not only be a monument but a national headquarters and event grounds for NSUJL as well.

NSUJL – which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year –  is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to assisting families of fallen or injured IBEW journeyman linemen, utility linemen, apprentice linemen, groundmen, operators and/or their spouses and minor children.

Staff have been working in less than 1,000 square feet of space and utilizing three storage facilities throughout Pennsylvania. The headquarters building will allow the group to accommodate future growth – which they’ve been unable to do of late.

NSUJL has helped more than 200 families with over $600,000 in financial assistance since the organization was founded in 2012.

Each June the organization hosts the “Climbing for Lost Linemen” rodeo to recognize fallen workers and have an event for line workers to showcase their skills. The event starts on a Friday with a special ceremony where lanterns adorned with the names of lineworkers who died in the past year are strung between two poles.

Lineworkers light a candle inside of each lantern and take a moment of silence for the fallen worker. The lanterns are then given or mailed to families of those who were honored in the ceremony. NSUJL only tracks accidents with IBEW members but anyone is allowed to participate in the ceremony.

“A lot of time it might be a widow’s first year without their husband, or kids without a parent,” Johnson says.

The ceremony is followed the next day with the rodeo competition for apprentices and linemen. Last year’s event raised over $100,000 between sponsors and day-of sales.

Those funds become the budget to provide emotional, physical and financial aid to families of fallen workers the following year.

'Forever Changed'

NSUJL has a network of therapists in its coverage area as well as its own trauma and grief counselor. Examples of help might be meal delivery, babysitting, financial aid, grocery shopping or hauling new appliances to a home where the owner cannot physically do the work.

Sometimes burn victims may have special needs, such as hospital chairs or recliners that allow them to get up and down without using their injured arms.

Johnson says the work NSUJL is worth every minute of sacrifice that is made and the organization needs as much help or support that can be mustered.

“These line workers are out in the worst of weather, fighting unimaginable conditions in the cold and sweltering heat. They’re sleeping in trailers, fed rations of food given to them, and they do it and don’t blink an eye or think about it,” Johnson says. “And some of them don’t make it home, and it’s sad. Families are forever changed because of those losses.”

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