Jack Cole remembers his first day on the job at the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant like it was days ago.
It was a sun-splashed morning in 1972, and the humidity was off the charts. Then he first came upon his new work home with the majestic Lake Michigan as a gorgeous backdrop. He would experience many more beautiful days until he retired in 2003 — three decades later.
“When I first saw it, I knew it was a special place,” Cole said. “And when I walked out the door on my last day, nothing had changed my mind.”
Ludington Pumped Storage has been called one of the world’s biggest electric batteries because it can provide energy at a moment’s notice. Lake Michigan water is pumped uphill during periods of low electric demand and stored in a large reservoir. When electricity demand is high, the water is released through six pump-turbines for power generation. The water then flows back into the lake.
During his career at Ludington, Cole helped with the maintenance of the machinery and equipment at the plant.
He also was involved in many memorable tasks.
“We had to go into the reservoir quite a few times to rescue deer, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do,” he said with a chuckle. “And when there were snow storms we had to plow so employees could get to the plant.”
Cole also generated a lot of memories during his 31 years. There were the good times with the births of grandchildren. There were also anniversaries and birthday celebrations. But there were also dark times with health scares, deaths and other curve balls that life threw at him along the way.
And he’s thankful for all the employees he met at the plant, including three friends that he still talks to and shares meals with after all these years. The four men recently came together to reminisce about their times during a relicensing ceremony for the plant.
The new license will allow the facility to operate until June 30, 2069.
Content Text (Body Copy) “We've been there for each other during some pretty rough times,” Cole said. “I don’t think that I could’ve got through mine without them.”
Those three friends — Ed Vandenberg, Ed Tenney and Roger Staley and their spouses — were among those who helped Cole and his two children get through a tragedy when his wife Norma died of brain cancer in 1995.
Cole is thankful that work was flexible, allowing him to take care of his wife leading up to her death. There were monthly trips to Grand Rapids where she would be cared for during her three-day stay. Jack was always by her side.
“My supervisor was really great about it,” Cole said. “I never had to take a vacation day to be with her. That was very important to both of us. I will never forget that. Never. This company is gold to me.”
Toward the end of Norma’s life, the three friends and their spouses rallied around them. Spending time with the couple day and night at the hospital.
Cole said he wouldn’t have got through those dark days if it weren’t for three friends he met along the way at the plant.
“They didn’t have to do what they did for me and my family,” Cole said. “But I was glad they were there. You really find out who your true friends are during times like that.”
One of the next times the four will likely come together is for another milestone next spring.
This time it will be to celebrate an $800 million overhaul of the plant – including replacing all six of the historic plant’s original massive turbines. When finished, it will increase the facility’s power by 300 megawatts.
“I will be there,” Cole said with a smile. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
At the recent Ludington event, the four men and their spouses had a chance to talk about how their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are doing. They also shared stories with other retirees.
And the men shared new challenges they are facing. Staley, who was at Ludington for 28 years before retiring in 2000, shared news he is battling cancer.
“I am going to beat it,” he said. “No doubt about it. I have more things that I want to do with my family and friends.”
The four men and their wives said goodbye to one another and wished their buddy Staley luck in his fight. It’s just another time they will be there for each other.
After all, there are more birthdays, anniversaries and now great grandchildren being born into the world that need to be properly celebrated.
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