The lineworker treatment
Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative recently created a dream experience for a young power enthusiast diagnosed with leukemia.
On Sept. 24, a pint-sized visitor walked through the doors of Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative (CPEC) in Bagley, Minn. The temporarily timid 6-year-old was quiet and stuck close to his entourage of family members.
However, when CPEC general manager Deanna Lefebvre asked about the paper Lakai Rivera clutched in his hand, shy time was over.
“These are the questions you want to ask? Awesome – I love it!” Lefebvre said as she knelt down next to Lakai. “Can you tell me what you drew here?”
“Poles,” Lakai answered.
“And what are these?”
“That’s right!” Deanna said.
Lakai’s questions stepped up in voltage and speed. “Why do some poles look mad? Where do you tell them to build the poles? Did you guys build the poles in Fargo, too?”
In five minutes, the curious guest had the entire co-op office giggling in amazement. And this was only the start of Lakai’s full afternoon tour of bucket trucks, territory maps and pole yard excitement. He was living his dream – becoming a lineworker for a day.
A wish granted
Lakai’s grandmother, Nana Lee, reached out to Lefebvre in late summer of 2021. She described the day CPEC crews had been changing out a pole on her property near Leonard, Minn., while Lakai was outside – and the current of questions that flowed from Lakai to the lineworkers.
“He became obsessed – why are there different poles, and different sizes, and different wires?” Lefebvre recalled of the conversation. “It sounded like he wanted to be a lineman someday, so Nana was wondering if he could visit the co-op. Then she told me that he has leukemia.”
Lakai was diagnosed with cancer in June 2021 after a fall from the monkey bars left him with excruciating wrist pain. There were no signs of fracture, and x-rays only showed a smoky outline around the bone. Doctors ran blood tests, which confirmed the family’s fears. Their kindergartner had leukemia.
After weeks of treatment in Fargo, Lakai is currently in remission and thriving. However, he still has a long road of health maintenance ahead, and he will be living locally with Nana and his grandfather Daryll Lee for homeschooling and treatment travel.
The revelation of Lakai’s diagnosis struck Lefebvre with force. She remembers Nana asking if her grandson could come to the co-op and peek at the trucks.
“I said, ‘Oh, I think we can do better than that,’” Lefebvre repeated with a warm grin. “When it comes to anything we’re asked to do at the co-op, our initial reaction is always above and beyond. It’s our being – it’s who we are. This was no different.”
Before Lakai continued on his tour, Lefebvre helped him try on his new lineworker gear – miniature work gloves, safety glasses and a co-op hard hat with LAKAI affixed to the back (a crafty addition by Lefebvre herself). “When you’re up working with electricity and poles, you have to make sure that you’re safe,” she said.
Veronica Lee, Lakai’s mother, says power poles have fascinated him since he was an infant. “He would point them out and baby talk at them. As soon as he was forming words, he was starting to talk about them,” she said.
“And he loves maps,” Nana added. “Now he follows the poles on the maps, and he’ll tell you where particular poles are on highways and in townships.”
“He’ll be a lineman,” grandpa Daryll chimed in, beaming as he watched Lakai interact with CPEC line superintendent Todd Waggoner.
“We just got a fresh load of poles into the yard this morning,” Waggoner said as he led Lakai through the cooperative and out to the shop. With some help from his team, the new lineworker hopped into the cab of a bucket truck. It was time to head out to the field for some extra training.
Getting to work
Lakai restarted his questions as soon as his shoes hit the dirt in the pole yard, where a crew of Clearwater-Polk lineworkers was waiting. “Are you the guys who build all of the poles?” Lakai asked as he approached them confidently.
Lineman Travis Huot took a moment to show Lakai how to attach an insulator to a pole. “Put your bolt through there,” he directed, then walked Lakai through the process of fastening the equipment.
“And that’s how you build poles,” Lakai said matter-of-factly.
“Yep,” Huot replied.
“I am trained and know how to build poles,” Lakai uttered as he moved to his next stop. He had a pole to examine from the heights of a line bucket.
The crew harnessed their visitor and let him ride shotgun as they drove the truck to the line-free pole used for pole-top rescue training. Lakai’s arm rested casually in the window frame as he made the short trip.
“He looks like he belongs there,” his mom whispered to those who were watching from afar. “He will never forget this.”
After overcoming some initial fear, Lakai gathered his courage and joined lineworker Josh Hendricks in the bucket. As the mechanical arm climbed higher and higher, he began pointing to items around the yard and waving to his family and new friends dozens of feet below.
“He will end up doing this for a living,” Nana said with her eyes lifted skyward. “I’m so glad he got brave and decided to do it.”
When Josh and Lakai finished their pole report, they carefully descended back to the world below. Shoulders unharnessed and imagination unleashed, the boy waved his arms wildly as he explained what he wanted to do next.
“We wanted to give him something fun and positive – he’s going through a lot right now,” Lefebvre said. “And for us to be able to do that for him is just awesome.”
Lakai expressed a slight pout and whimper when the family told him it was time to head back home. He didn’t want this experience to come to a close. After a few final questions and a round of goodbyes, he thanked the Clearwater-Polk team for letting him join the crew for a day. But as he walked away, he left his short-term coworkers with a hopeful inquiry:
“When can I go on my next tour?”
MAIN IMAGE: Six-year-old Lakai Rivera stands amid the poles that have powered his imagination since infancy. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)