James and Mary Lou Ballenger stood in the crowd reading aloud the names of each service area represented by dozens of utility crews before their trucks turned onto Broadway and passed beneath a large American flag.
Columbia. Monroe City. Higginsville. Hannibal. Fulton. Boone County. Centralia. Independence.
Electrical workers from across the state joined Columbia Water and Light employees, family and friends to honor Steve Ebert, who died Friday while helping restore electricity in Independence.
“They’re all just like brothers,” said Mary Lou Ballenger, a relative of a Water and Light employee. “Because you have to be. In a dangerous job like that, you have to be.”
Ebert was reaching into the storage bin of an electrical truck at 8:50 a.m. Friday when the overhead boom came into contact with a live wire. It was the first time a Columbia Water and Light worker has been killed on the job in more than 50 years.
The crowd on Broadway surged forward as the memorial processional approached. Vicki Ebert, Steve’s wife, sat in the passenger seat of the first shiny red truck with her youngest child, 1-year-old Ashlyn. The Ebert’s other two children, Kevin, 7, and Erik, 5, waved from the window of the next truck.
The line of trucks proceeded from the electric distribution building across the street from the Municipal Power Plant continued on Business Loop 70, College Avenue, Broadway and Providence Road. Small groups dotted intersections and parking lots along the route; a lone man in a tie, his hands clasped, waited on Business Loop 70.
For the memorial service at the electric building, the loading dock became a dais, and Ebert’s picture was displayed on an old telephone pole.
The crowd — many with black ribbons or red carnations pinned to their lapels — spilled out of the building and stood in the open air.
As all bowed their heads, a Water and Light employee opened the service in prayer.
City Manager Ray Beck then offered his condolences and the regrets of Mayor Darwin Hindman, who was out of town.
“A tragedy of this nature reaches out to all employees of the Water and Light Department,” Beck said.
Independence Power and Light Director George Morrow thanked Columbia for sending crews to his city to help repair electric lines damaged last Wednesday by severe storms.
“For me personally, and for many at the department, the clock was stopped at 8:50 on Friday,” Morrow said.
Columbia Water and Light Director Dan Dasho spoke of the equality among all employees and the deep friendships that developed.
“I’m proud to say Steve worked for me,” Dasho said.
“We are all family in line-work,” said Victor Winn, Ebert’s former supervisor. “That’s what I see in linemen — that profession of brotherhood, of knowing how to work together as a team.”
Tony Cunningham, Ebert’s supervisor, recalled his spiritual conversations during breaks at job sites.
“I’m truly going to miss that time we had together,” Cunningham said.
As people filed out and headed back to work or the reception, Bruce Perkins another Water and Light supervisor thought back to Friday, when he and other Columbia linemen returned from Independence to their waiting co-workers.
“You can’t know how it felt to have those people waiting on us and to be able to come home,” Perkins said.