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home : free press advocate : free press advocate May 22, 2015

5/20/2014 9:56:00 PM
Turning 80 and marking half century on the job
BILL BORTH TURNS 80 on Friday, but still works part-time at Clennon Electric  where hes logged 50 years of service.
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BILL BORTH TURNS 80 on Friday, but still works part-time at Clennon Electric where hes logged 50 years of service.
It would be hard to say what is more remarkable; the fact that Bill Borth is still holding down a part-time job, even though he turns 80 on Friday, or that after 50 years of service, he still works, and is appreciated, at Clennon Electric.

Borth had a handful of jobs in his younger days, digging fence posts at the arsenal for John Barr for $1 an hour, working at the shingle mill, and running the beater at the Diamond International plant on Kankakee River Drive - that's where he met Howard Clennon, the founder of Clennon Electric.

It was a chance meeting, but one that had a favorable impact on Borth's life. Clennon was doing some electrical work at Diamond, which manufactured bath tissue. Borth asked if Clennon was hiring.

"At that time, Braidwood nuclear plant was starting up, and they needed a lot of electricians," Borth said. So Clennon Electric hired Borth on a permit and put him to work, and sent him to trade school to become certified. After completing the apprenticeship, Borth joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 176.

As an employee of Clennon Electric, Borth worked at Braidwood station in the early stages of its development. The Clennon electricians powered up the concrete batch plants, the fire station and other initial services. Eventually though, larger firms took over.

Borth did electrical work at the paper mill and a new bank in Morris, was the go-to electrician at Stepan Chemical and Tyler Grain Elevator for about 10 years each, installed services at area motels and restaurants, Whitmore Ace Hardware and the new Wilmington post office.

Those are the big jobs; the smaller ones are too numerous to recount. House calls were common, and often, charitable; Clennon Electric still gives deeply in the community.

"We did schools, farms; Mr. [Howard] Clennon, farmers came to him all the time. Everybody out here knew Clennon Electric in that sense. At that time, everybody depended on him, because there weren't that many electricians," Borth said.

"He had a good bunch of guys. It's like a family. It's a blessing. To come here to work, and know the family, and know the people I work with, that's unbelievable. God's been good to me."

Borth watched Howard grow the business, and was there to support Howard's son Larry when he took over.

"Any business' employees - they are the business," commented Larry. "When you have an employee 50 years, you get that longevity and tie the generations together." After Howard died, Larry said, Borth became somewhat of a father figure.

"You don't even realize it but you start to listen to him like you would have listened to your father," Clennon said.

Borth finds a certain pride and satisfaction in being able to point out where he's worked. The basic systems have changed little over the years - the facilities may have had to add outlets or fixtures, but the original solid infrastructure is still in use.

"I tell my kids and any other people I can get ahold of, hey, I did that, and it's still going," he commented. "... I'm proud of that."

He is also confident that the training he received through Clennon and the IBEW was top notch, and it is reflected in the quality of his work.

Borth retired from the union in 1998, but didn't retire from Clennon Electric. He currently manages the shop on a part-time basis, ensuring that the materials needed for each job are in stock, and acting as an unofficial safety inspector.

"I still get on 'em, because I'm the oldest one. And all these guys respect me, and they do help me; I don't lift anything any more, they jump right in and lift it," Borth commented.

"It's been good for us to have him," Clennon said. "When somebody calls in, he knows exactly what they're talking about."

Borth treats the business like his own, and the sense of family pervades. He tells of staying at Larry's house during one of the Clennon family's vacations, when the power went out. Borth slept on the couch, and polished off a $7 pound of cheese, but made sure the generator was going.

Will the aches and pains of octogenarianism catch up with Borth? Maybe some day. But now - not so much. He planned to retire, but his wife of 60 years come Sept. 4, Neva, said if he did that he would have nothing to do.

Bill and Neva have three daughters; Arlene Smits of Sandwich, IL; Debbie Brannon and Sheri Borth, both of Dallas, TX.

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