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March 2018

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IBEW Members Bring Holiday Joy to an Island in Ruins

One of Bobbie Lynn Mayfield's greatest joys is making Christmas special for people who otherwise would have little or nothing under the tree.

But last Christmas she was 2,000 miles away from home, one of hundreds of IBEW linemen working 12-hour days, seven days a week to restore power to the hurricane-ravaged Virgin Islands.

Mayfield, a member of Detroit Local 17, decided she'd use whatever spare moments she had to make Christmas magic happen there, enlisting scores of enthusiastic union brothers to help.

A journeyman lineman for 27 years and one of just two women among signatory contractor Haugland Energy's crews on St. Croix, Mayfield arrived in early November to a landscape of wreckage "like nothing I've ever seen before in my life," she said.

She's loved most every minute of it, describing her time as "an experience that will never be relived, so unique and absolutely amazing" — especially Christmas.

She was straightening a power pole in a woman's yard one day, chatting about the tradition she and her daughter share of adopting families in need for the holidays. Aware that many Crucians — as St. Croix natives are called — were impoverished even before Hurricane Maria tore their island apart, Mayfield wanted to know how best to help.

The woman told her about the Queen Louise Home for Children, a Lutheran Social Services facility that has provided residential foster care for abused, abandoned or neglected children since 1904.

Mayfield went there on Thanksgiving, the only day off for linemen in all their months on St. Croix.

Queen Louise Director Dana Holtz said donors have given generously at Christmas over the years, but it can be an uncertain period of wait-and-see and last-minute gifts. She worried that the 2017 season would be more precarious, with hurricane recovery still everyone's top priority. Then she met Mayfield.

"I interface with a lot of donors and many of them are a little bit set in stone about how they want to donate or what they want to do to assist," Holtz said. "Bobbie was so open-minded about meeting our needs."

Holtz was relieved, knowing the holiday tradition was on track. The children "need routine, things they can depend on, because there have been so many things in their lives that they haven't been able to depend on," she said.

After the home's 22 youngsters wrote their annual letters to Santa, Holtz converted them to lists that included each child's initials, age, gender, clothes size, favorite color and favorite cartoon character. She also sent wish lists for 16 disabled adults, most of whom live in another Lutheran Social Services home on St. Croix.

"I told her I'd like to get a list from every child, every young adult — everyone," Mayfield said.

A few things listed were furnishings — beds and dressers — to replace items destroyed by flooding. Bicycles were a popular wish. But mostly, "the lists were so simple it kind of broke my heart," Mayfield said. "Some kids only wanted two things, like costume jewelry and socks."

Mayfield received the lists Dec. 12 and quickly distributed them. "I'd been prepping the guys, asking them if they'd be interested in helping," she said. "They were out-of-this-world excited. They were practically standing in line to get their lists."

With just 12 shopping days until Christmas, lineman scoured the island's Kmarts while wives and other helpers hit mainland stores and websites in search of toys and games, T-shirts and tiaras, small electronics, CDs, DVDs and more.

Everyone came through, filling every wish on every list, and more. If a bicycle and a teddy bear were listed, for instance, Holtz said, "the linemen took the next step and got a bicycle and a bicycle helmet and a teddy bear and they would also buy maybe five outfits."

Holtz and volunteers wrapped the gifts late on Christmas Eve, and stacked everything under the tree while the children slept.

The thrilled youngsters thanked Santa Claus in letters that didn't quite make it to the North Pole. "We got all kinds of thank-you cards," Mayfield said.

Holtz said what the linemen did for the children, alongside their many other kindnesses on the island, are helping to heal St. Croix.

While the hurricanes were an "angry" force of nature, IBEW members, she said, "were a force of hope, a life preserver."



Some of the 40 local flaggers assisting IBEW crews on St. Croix pose with supervisor Bobbie Lynn Mayfield, a Detroit Local 17 journeyman lineman who organized a Christmas gift drive for residents of an island orphanage, above. Mayfield is pictured in back, left side, wearing a ball cap.