Gerry Kinney has never played much golf, but at least once a year for the past four years, he has found himself at Fairfield Public Golf Course for the Wayne-White Counties Electric Cooperative Electrical Distribution Systems Scholarship Fundraiser.
That’s what happens when the scholarship, which goes to a Frontier Community College student, bears your name.
“I told them, ‘My name doesn’t have to be on it, just have it say Wayne-White,’” Kinney said. “They apparently have not listened at all.”
Usually, when Kinney speaks, people listen. The former Wayne-White lineman remains highly regarded more than eight years after the accident that changed, and almost ended, his life.
On July 16, 2015, Kinney came in contact with a 7,200-volt power line on what seemed like a routine job, spent five weeks in the Mercy Burn Unit in St. Louis and had both arms amputated.
Rather than retreat into solitude, Kinney has told his story and shared his wealth of experience as a lineman at every opportunity with the support of his wife, Denice, who works in the office at Wayne-White.
“Gerry has faced more adversity than any of us can imagine, but he has not let that slow him down one bit,” said Chris Hopfinger, Wayne-White President and CEO. “Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he has turned his near-fatal tragedy into a truly inspirational story that he shares with kids and adults alike all over the state and even across the country.”
Those speaking engagements have been on hiatus this past year as Kinney recovered first from hernia surgery and then a broken bone in his shoulder, but he’s already got things on the calendar for 2024.
What he didn’t have on his calendar a few years ago was becoming a teacher. Kinney went to Frontier to present the scholarship and shared his story, then was asked if he could help out with the Electrical Distribution Systems program. He did off and on throughout that school year and when the instructor retired in 2019, Kinney was asked to take over the program.
“When I started at Frontier, now I had to worry about my own curriculum and what to do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do as much climbing with the class as I could, but we had days for inside stuff and days for outside stuff.
“I gained a whole new respect for teachers – they’re pretty phenomenal people.”
He also gained insight into why teaching is so rewarding.
“You get such an awesome sense of accomplishment when you describe or instruct in a way where the students get it,” he said. “If you had one or two who didn’t get it, then you did it differently so that they got it. It is so cool to think you can convey what you’re thinking in a way that other individuals understand.”
During Kinney’s second year heading the program, he began to experience trouble with his right arm, wearing sores on the bony end where his prosthetic arm attached. He eventually had surgery and the doctor told him he was going to have to give up something to let the arm stay healthy.
“The second year, I had to say, ‘I can’t keep doing this,’ so I regretfully turned in my resignation,” Kinney said. “It was very rewarding, I kind of miss it, and I don’t know if I’d still be doing it but for the arm, but I’m tickled I got to do it when I did.”
So are the students and his successor, who showed up for the 2023 scholarship fundraiser, which saw Wayne-White Electric Cooperative raise nearly $5,000 with the annual golf scramble.
Kinney has always been a proponent of education and learning, something he took great pride in as a lineman.
“It was always a constant, every day up to the day of my accident, still learning,” he said. “With this job there is no end to learning. To me, I don’t know how you couldn’t learn something almost every day.
“I remember going to the schools we had in apprenticeship, that was some awesome learning from peers and sharing information. One more place I learned the most was on trouble calls and during storms. You gained a vast amount of knowledge in a short amount of time. I still miss my job, and I’d go right back to it today if I could.”
While Kinney may not be able to work as a lineman anymore, he’s more than happy to make sure the next generation does. When he was working, he worried that within a decade, there wouldn’t be enough lineman out there.
After teaching for two years, he’s more optimistic than ever about the future of the utility industry and linemen in particular.
“Now I know there are individuals who want to do this, they’re way more than capable and willing if you ask them,” Kinney said. “It gave me hope for the future of the industry. They’re out there, we just need to look for them and train them.
“If you teach them the right way, it’s amazing how they just take off. The last class I had, I would’ve hired almost every one of them. They stepped up their game, and I think a lot of kids nowadays are begging for that type of challenge. They like structure and discipline and hard work once they feel the satisfaction of a job well-done.”
While Kinney never expected he would be the one teaching or speaking to large groups – “never in a million years,” he says – he’s more than happy to continue making an impact wherever and on whoever he can. It’s one reason why he arrived at the golf course late this year, having served as a judge at the AIEC Lineman Rodeo in Springfield.
That dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed, which is why his name is on a scholarship.
“When he speaks to the students (and everyone for that matter), they intently listen to what he has to say,” Hopfinger said. “Gerry not only knows the ins and outs of the electric industry, but he uses his experience as a way to educate people on electrical safety.
“Wayne-White Electric has been happy and honored to assist him in his desire to give back in some way and found it only fitting for the scholarship to be in his name.”