by Rick Nichols
The invitation to the public reads “Retirement – your table for two is ready,” and while Steve Poe isn’t Joe Heinen’s first choice for a dinner companion at a five-star restaurant, nor Heinen Poe’s, the two men have come to greatly admire each other as a direct result of their many years working together as employees of Leavenworth-Jefferson Electric Cooperative.
More than 80 years of experience, experience that can’t be replaced just like that, will walk out the front door for good when Poe, 66, and Heinen, 64, walk away from the LJEC office in McLouth Wednesday afternoon, bringing to a close their lengthy careers with the co-op.
But first things first. Mindful of their service to the co-op, which came into being back in the 1940s, LJEC officials will be honoring Poe and Heinen during a two-hour celebration scheduled for Friday afternoon between 2 and 4 at the office. Light refreshments will be served.
Poe, who oversees LJEC’s presence at Fort Leavenworth as Fort Operations Manager, described Heinen as a “very thoughtful person,” during an interview last week, someone he’ll certainly miss being around on an everyday basis. “He’s been a pleasure to work with,” he remarked. “He’s very easy to get along with.”
Heinen, the co-op’s assistant manager, credits Poe for helping him “learn the ropes” so to speak after he became an employee just five months after retiring from the board of directors. “He was an excellent teacher when I came here,” he commented. “He taught me a lot about the system.”
But Jennifer Fisher, the co-op’s public relations and marketing specialist, had a kind word for both men. “Their decision-making was always in the best interest of the member,” she observed.
Poe went to work for LJEC in August 1972 as an apprentice lineman and within four years was a journeyman lineman, a position he held until 1993, when he was reassigned to the office to implement the co-op’s automatic meter reading system. Later, he supervised the deployment of the automatic metering infrastructure system.
In 2003 Poe became LJEC’s technical services coordinator. In 2005, when the co-op won the contract to provide electrical service to Fort Leavenworth in the wake of the federal government’s decision to privatize the operation, he was designated the assistant manager of the project, and in 2007 he was named Fort operations manager.
Like Poe, Heinen caught on with LJEC in 1972 when he secured a seat on the board of directors. Over the next 19-plus years he served the co-op’s membership in various capacities, including those of secretary, vice president and president of the board, before relinquishing his duties in May 1992.
But Heinen wasn’t gone for long, rejoining the co-op in October as an employee in the member services department. He was tapped for the assistant manager’s job in 2002.
During the past five decades Poe and Heinen have witnessed a number of changes in the energy industry while watching LJEC grow to the point where it can now say it has a “footprint” in five counties, Leavenworth, Jefferson, Douglas, Jackson and Atchison. According to Fisher, the co-op’s current (pun intended) membership is 7,000, the meter count 8,100.
“I’ve seen a lot of big changes over the years … people and technology,” Poe said. “It’s been a pretty good job to have. I always had a paycheck here.”
Poe went on to report that some of the busiest years he experienced were the early 1970s when the area around Perry Lake, then less than five years old, was being developed. “I’ve seen quite a bit of growth,” he commented.
Heinen was equally grateful for the chance he had gotten from LJEC to prove himself both on the board and in the “field” as an employee, even if he never had to climb a tall pole on a stormy night to reattach a line so some of his fellow members wouldn’t be without power.
“I never would’ve believed I would’ve ended up where I did,” he remarked. “The co-op has given me and my family a lot of opportunities.” Just the same, he said he was “looking forward to retiring and letting the next generation take over.”
As fate would have it, both men married a Linda. Poe’s “better half” apparently has plans for him, as he acknowledged that he had “a lot of honey-dos to get caught up on” once LJEC no longer had any claims on his time. That said, he has some plans of his own and they include spending more time on the golf course, lavishing attention on his Corvette and the other cars in his collection, traveling to Arizona to see his son Travis, who lives in Mesa, and visiting other destinations of interest to him.
The Poes, who live near McLouth, also have a daughter, Robyn Barreca, who resides in Leawood with her husband, Pete, and their two children, Joe and P.J.
Poe never went to college, choosing instead to enlist in the Navy after graduating from high school. He wore a uniform for four years in serving “Uncle Sam,” a hitch that included some time in Vietnam during the war there.
Poe is a longtime member of the McLouth First United Methodist Church and for 16 years held down a seat on the McLouth USD 342 Board of Education.
It’s entirely possible that Poe and Heinen will literally cross paths some day at the Phoenix airport, as Heinen also has plans to visit the Grand Canyon State in particular and the Southwest in general after he retires. But odds are his Linda, like that other Linda, may have something to say about that.
The Heinens live outside Valley Falls on a 300-acre farm and are two-time winners of the Bankers Award, which is presented annually to farmers and ranchers in recognition of the implementation of outstanding soil conservation or wildlife habitat practices on their properties.
So Heinen should stay busy just trying to keep “the old home place” running smoothly and environmentally sound, but in the days to come there’s a good chance he’ll be spending more time at nearby Pioneer Cemetery, formerly known as the Cemetery of the Lone Tree.
Heinen learned this past November that he had been selected to receive a Power+Hope Award from the Kansas Touchstone Energy Executive Council for having made a “significant contribution” to the betterment of both LJEC and the Valley Falls area, an honor that carried with it a $500 donation to a charity of his choice. He picked the cemetery and the money was going to be used to construct a display board for sharing valuable historical information with visitors to the site.
A veteran, Heinen was in the Army Reserves from 1968 to 1974 and was the first man in his company to sign up for the 89th Division Drill Sergeant Program, which he completed. He was an operations sergeant and the recipient of the Citizen-Soldier Award when he left the military.
Heinen was in 4-H when he was young and later served as a project leader for the local club. He is a former member of the Mid-America Dairymen.
Since 2001 Heinen has been on the Board of Directors for Jefferson County Rural Water District No. 3. He also has served on the parish council for his church, St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Church in Valley Falls, and he is the chairman of the newly-formed Valley Falls Community Trust Fund, which was established to provide financial support for worthy projects that in some way benefit Valley Falls.
The Heinens have three children and five grandchildren. They are Karla Meyer, her husband, Tom, and their children, Toby and Tera, Lecompton, Dr. Carrie Mihordin, her husband, Ron, and daughter, Natalie, Overland Park, and David and his wife, Amy, and children, Luke and Ike, Lenexa.
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