February 2020

‘Miracle’ of Light

Former electrician recalls life before power

Kids these days and their smartphones. Glenn Gochenour has an opinion or two on having the whole world at your fingertips. “

It makes me wonder if you’re in the shower, I wonder how many people are watching?” he says.

When Gochenour chides his device-carrying daughter for “that thing you’ve got in your hands,” he’s talking as a man with perspective on life before cellphones existed.

Please hold. That’s a little off.

He is bringing the perspective of a man who lived before there was electricity.

A Waynesboro resident, Gochenour celebrated his 100th birthday in grand fashion in early December. His daughter, Vickie Wood, organized a firetruck escort — sirens a-blazing — to a banquet hall, where a color guard and some 60 people awaited him.

It was a day to savor for a man who’s seen it all.

“It’s mind-boggling to think of the changes he has seen in his lifetime,” says Wood, who lives in Manassas and is a member of Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative. “He thinks the iPhone is the greatest invention ever.”

While we all live in our virtual worlds, to think of life without electricity today is virtually impossible. Asked if he thinks we take electricity for granted, Gochenour provides a keen response.

“I think you probably ignore it completely,” he says.

He’s right. The sky is blue. The sun rises in the east. And electricity is just there to literally power us through our day.

BACK IN THE DAY

While we may not comprehend it, we understand there was life before light. Only so many people living today can offer a firsthand account on that time period.

For being 100, Gochenour can more than hold his own in reflecting on life before light. Growing up on a farm in Augusta County, there was a trough down a hill that was just deep enough to hold cold spring water.

“That was our refrigerator,” Gochenour says. “We’d put milk in the spring and other things to preserve. You wouldn’t believe how good it made a watermelon taste.”

The family needed its fair share of fruit, too. Gochenour was the youngest of 13 children. Imagine feeding that many people and sharing bathrooms for that large of a clan.

Now picture it without electricity or indoor plumbing.

“You look back and you wonder how in the world did you make it through,” Gochenour says. “But human nature has a way of accepting whatever’s in front of it and making the best of it.

“We weren’t dirty old people. Can you imagine the laundry for that many people? It’s unbelievable. And yet things functioned to perfection.”

He doesn’t recall the first time he used electricity, which likely would have been at his elementary school. Gochenour would later leave home for Ohio before the Augusta County farm where he was raised had electricity.

He then returned to Augusta County and had a long career at DuPont, eventually working as — take a guess — an electrician. Gochenour had a 44-year career briefly interrupted when he enlisted in the Air Force during World War II.

Portions of Augusta County are in Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative’s service territory. In 1936, SVEC became the first electric cooperative chartered in Virginia. Gochenour lived within the cooperative’s boundary lines later in life and became a major fan of Cooperative Living magazine.

It took turning 100, but now he’s lived to see himself featured in the same pages. If only everyone who reads it can have his outlook on life.

For example, a few days after his birthday, he was awoken by staff at his facility and told he could not eat that day because of pending surgery. While Gochenour was displeased with not getting to have breakfast, he says this gave him the perfect excuse to “lay there and snooze.”

“You take something negative and it’s got a positive spin somewhere or another,” he says. “You flip off the negative and flip on the positive.”

Next time you flip on a light switch, think about a time when such a simple act was a foreign concept. “It’s a miracle,” Gochenour says.