Halloween night in 2009 is a night that Local 41 Business Manager Sean Smith, his brothers-in-law, Rich Keeland and Mike Lee, his sisters, Margie and Amy, and little brother, Charlie, will never forget. Brother Smith’s mom and dad, Margie and Pete Smith, were out of town the night their house went up in flames. Brother Smith recalled the horrific night, stating, “We had a wood stove in the garage, which was attached to the house. It kept the garage warm when we were working in there. The fire started as a chimney fire. My brothers-in-law and I realized there was a fire, and we fought it hard, but the flames took over the garage and then engulfed the house. We lived in a rural area, and it was a 40-year-old beautiful log home that my two grandpas and my dad built. Of course we called the fire department, but out here we have an all-volunteer fire department, and by the time they arrived, the entire house was on fire. We lost it all.”
When the fire occurred, Pete, Brother Smith’s dad, was a recently retired Local 41 pipefitter. He had started his career with the boilermakers and then made the change and joined the UA. Margie, his wife, had also recently retired after working for the Anaconda Job Corps for 30 years. The Smiths’ log home was their dream home, and one they hoped they would share with their family for years to come. Brother Sean Smith said, “The hardest phone call I ever had to make was to tell my dad his house was on fire. I can remember them building that house. I was about five years old at the time.”
Sean’s sister, Margie, recalled, “My entire childhood recollection was compiled in that house. I remember them helping to build it from perfataping, spackling, painting, and babysitting sleeping Charlie in the trailer, so they could work on the house. It was a unique home, straight out of our parents’ strange ideas and my dad’s tightly shut pocketbook, but they still kept it true to the beautiful view the land possessed.
“I feel like my childhood was magical there. We had privacy, an entire gulch to get lost in, nearby friends to grow up with, and so many memories! I can still hear Mom yelling down the grate telling me to stop using so much hairspray, and remember sitting for hours in the pantry on the phone, sunbathing or sleeping under the stars on the deck, or seeing Nate’s name, along with our kids’ names on the measuring wall. I get tearyeyed thinking about that house, the memories made in it, the precious contents that burned with it, and how we all felt like a family member had died the day we lost it. However, as sad as it was to see our parents dig through the ashes for any little charred memento, I still remember their childish excitement when their new house arrived on trucks, and their hope of living there again was revitalized.”
Local 41 Business Manager at the time, John Forkan, heard about the fire, and at the next Local 41 union meeting, something miraculous happened. Business Manager Forkan proposed a motion to give Pete and Margie $1,000 to assist them with the rebuild. The members overwhelmingly agreed, and the motion was passed. Training Coordinator Con Sullivan then stood up, and proposed that, when they started the rebuild, the local’s plumbing apprentices would complete all of the plumbing on their own time and at no cost to the Smith family. Sean Smith said, “That was huge in our world.” The motion was seconded and also unanimously passed. When the house was ready for a plumbing installation, the apprentices arrived with their instructor at the time, Rick
Labreche, and they installed the plumbing for the entire house. “My folks were overwhelmed and so proud to be union members,” Brother Smith said. “It is something, as a family, we will never forget.”
Time and time again, there are reports of local unions doing extraordinary things, and when it comes to a local’s membership — members are family — and that will forever be the Heart of the UA.