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December 2018

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Nebraska Wireman Wraps Up an 89-Year Career

Every year, the IBEW hands out hundreds — yes, hundreds — of 70-year pins to men and women marking seven decades as members of the Brotherhood.

But how many arrive before the recipient retires?

There is now at least one.

After 89 years doing electrical work — the first couple OSHA would have had a word or two about if it existed at the time — Lincoln, Neb., Local 265 member Norm "Pinky" Stentz is out of work.

"I'm an old buzzard," he said.

Stentz, 95, is a second-generation member of Local 265. His father, Howard, was president of the local 60-odd years ago. He got into the business in 1929, when Stentz was only 6 years old, and times being what they were, it wasn't long until he was helping his father out on jobs.

"I was very close to my dad. He's the one who nicknamed me Pinky the first time he saw me," he said. "I had a brother who wanted no part of it. So old Pinky had to help his dad. I crawled under buildings where he couldn't get in."

By 1931, his father taught him all the tools and had him fetch them out of the Model T Ford they'd converted into a work truck. By his tenth birthday in 1933, he was drilling holes in joists and studs with a brace and bit for the knob and tube work.

"You have to understand, back in those days you could do things you can't do today with a 10-year-old kid on a construction site," he said.

Stentz worked with and for his father until the outbreak of World War II when he enlisted in the Navy, where he was soon made a 3rd class electrician's mate after drawing a "legal" three-way circuit for the electrician's mate.

By 1943 he was transferred to the newly commissioned USS Independence, an aircraft carrier that was torpedoed during the Battle of Tarawa and supported the attacks on Okinawa and the Philippines. The ship was awarded eight battle stars.

After the war, Stentz returned home to Nebraska and got a job at Industrial Electric. He volunteered to come in on weekends so he could learn to wind motors. That initiative won him an invitation to learn estimating, and later, a visit to the boss's house where Stentz found something even more valuable: a wife.

"Long story short, I married his daughter, quit him and went to work at Commonwealth Electric," he said.

In 1953 he was called back into service and sent to Korea, where he served in the 1st Marine Airwing alongside astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, Red Sox great Ted Williams and Tonight Show co-host Ed McMahon. Stentz maintained the unit's generators and was seconded to the Korean power company to rebuild and connect destroyed 500 kva transformers.

"We often had to use barbed wire on the primary side because it was all we had," he said.

When he returned home to Commonwealth in Lincoln, Stentz made his transition to the office final. He was the only estimator who came from the field and, at first, the room full of engineers weren't sure what they had.

"I was very humble. They finally accepted me and said, 'You'll make a good man.' We had a chief engineer, he took me under his wing. He worked mainly power houses, but I did everything," Stentz said.

Within a few years, Stentz said he was not only estimating jobs, he was given the go-ahead to bid them. Soon after, he was designing projects from the start.

"He became one of Commonwealth's best engineers, and he never took a single college course," said Local 265 Business Manager Chris Callihan.

He drew up everything from office buildings and power houses to factories and a 15 MW co-generation plant for Archer Daniels Midland.

"They put that plant online in the '80s and they have never had a nickel's worth of trouble with it," Stentz said.

"Pinky put hundreds of our members to work with the projects he designed and his insistence that IBEW do the work," Callihan said. "He had a hand in a bunch of buildings right across the U.S. and a bunch of careers."

Stentz retired in August, and he's not sure what his next chapter will be. At least one of his children, an engineer in the Navy, retired before he did. But after 89 years doing electrical work, he thinks often of the people who got him here.

"I attribute my success and know-how to the owners of Commonwealth and the engineers that taught me. They were very nice," he said. "But I worked real hard. When I got off from work, I didn't go to beer joints. I went home and studied. I think I earned my stripes."


Stentz retired after 89 years of electrical work, starting at age 6 working for his dad.


Stentz on top of father Howard's company pickup truck in 1931. The truck was bought with bonus money for his father's service in World War I.