George Russell spent more than two years asking city officials in Modesto, Calif., to install a new flagpole in front of a city-owned community center. All he got in return was frustration.
But after Modesto Local 684 Business Manager Billy Powell read about the situation, the pole was retrofitted with new LED lighting by the local’s members about a month later. And it came at no cost to city taxpayers.
“I appreciate everything they did,” Russell said. “They stepped up to the plate.”
Added Powell: “We have received many calls and thank you letters for it.”
Here is how it happened.
Russell served 21 years in the U.S. Navy. He now is a board member for the King-Kennedy Memorial Center on Modesto’s west side. The center is named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and opened in 1969, one year after the two men were assassinated.
|A new flagpole stands outside the King-Kennedy Memorial Center on April 8, shortly after its dedication. Modesto Local 684 and its signatory contractors donated the money and labor to install the pole.
The flagpole has been vandalized over the years and the American flag stolen on multiple occasions. The pole also didn’t have lights that allowed the flag to be properly displayed at night. Russell asked the city to install a new pole with lighting and a way to keep vandals from stealing the flag, such as running the cable to raise it on the inside of the pole.
As a veteran, Russell took it as an insult the flag wasn’t being properly displayed, especially one in front of a facility named for two prominent figures in American history. As someone active in the community, he thought political leaders were showing a lack of respect for the west side, an economically struggling area of the city.
“It gets neglected,” Russell said. “I am a homeowner and I live in west Modesto. They keep cutting taxes and cutting services and keep asking the community to do different things. “
Russell said elected officials stonewalled or told him it wasn’t in the city’s budget. The situation came to a head on March 3, when the Modesto Bee reported on Russell’s appearance before the city council two days earlier.
Russell asked council members why they wouldn’t appropriate a few thousand dollars for the new flagpole. Some council members expressed sympathy, but most said it needed to go through the proper channels and sent it to a committee for more study.
“I put them on the spot,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Where is your priority?’ “
Powell was among those who read about Russell’s appearance. He noted that Local 684 members have a tradition of volunteering in the community.
“Lighting a flagpole is our line of work,” he said.
Powell met with representatives from the community center, who enthusiastically accepted the offer for help. The Local 684 management committee and executive board both unanimously approved the project within a few days.
A ceremony to dedicate the new pole was held on April 8, with Modesto Fire Fighters Local 1289 donating a flag and promising replacements as needed. Local 684 was honored by the council publicly on June 7.
“Once they said they were going to do this, it was like hallelujah,” said Carole Collins, the center’s program manager. “That meant it was going to happen. With the city, they may say they’re going to do this, but you’re always looking at a least a year or more down the road with all the red tape and bureaucracy.”
Collins also gave Local 684 members high marks for how they handled the construction. To top it off, they donated $250 to a local Boys and Girls Club that meets at the center, she said.
“They were always here,” she said. “They kept in contact with us, telling us what they had done, what they needed to do and what supplies they were waiting for to come in. Things moved so quickly.”
“Even the cleanup when they finished, the lawn looked better than when they came in,” Collins added. “They made sure to put the dirt back in and swept the sidewalk. They gave that extra attention you would expect at your home if you were paying for that service.”
Local 684 inside wireman Matt Paine, who helped install the flagpole, noted the local’s signatory contractors stepped up to cover the cost. That effort was led by Collins Electrical, for whom Paine works as a traffic signal superintendent. The project cost about $2,500, Powell said.
“I’m proud I was able to help out in the community,” Paine said. “I was proud that my company had no problem helping out in the community. That’s what it comes back to for me.”
Powell had one priority while building the flagpole: To make sure the LED light shining on the flag at night was American made. The flag itself also was made in the United States.
“We are not putting an LED light made in China on top of this flagpole,” he said. “We found a manufacturer here in the United States. Everything turned out great.”
Modesto had a local election earlier this year and Powell said the project allowed him to build a relationship with Ted Brandvold, the new mayor.
“That’s been very positive,” he said. “We didn’t do it for the kudos, but it has been nice to be recognized for what the local has done at different events.”