HAMLET — Richmond Community College graduated its largest Electric Lineman class on Dec. 3 with 22 students heading into the workforce, but the ceremony was bittersweet for this particular class. Back in October, lineman instructor Joey Keane passed away from health complications.
Keane had more than 40 years of experience in the utility industry working for Pee Dee Electric. He came on board with RichmondCC in 2018 to help with the new Electric Lineman program, joining lead instructor Scott Caulder, whom he trained at Pee Dee Electric, and another fellow lineman Garry Veach.
At the graduation ceremony, Dr. Hal Shuler talked about the bond Keane had with the students in each class.
“Joey had nicknames for many of the students, but above all, the students knew he had their best interest in mind,” Shuler said. “He worked them hard, gave them no slack, because he knew what it took to be a lineman. His desire was to teach them the correct way to do things. And he did that over and over again with the students he came in contact with.”
Shuler, who is over the RichmondCC Foundation, was approached by two of Keane’s friends shortly after he passed away. Mingo Crowley and Terry Brown wanted to establish a scholarship in his memory.
“They said the Stateline Hunting Club, in which Joey was a charter member, wanted to provide a monetary award to an Electric Lineman graduate in honor of Joey at each lineman graduation. I immediately agreed and thought this would be a great way to honor Joey’s memory,” Shuler said.
Crowley and Brown attended the graduation ceremony to present the very first “Joey Keane Award” to a lineman in the class who exemplified “great heart, toughness, and a never quit attitude.” David Burns was the first recipient of the award.
Two other awards were also presented to top lineman students. The Consolidated Electrical Distributors Investment Award was given to Seth Hunt, and the Tavares Bostic Award was given to Leslie Miller.
Burns had also been selected by his classmates to speak during the ceremony. He talked about their lack of knowledge coming into the program, even putting on equipment backwards or upside down, and how much they had grown over the past 15 weeks.
“Our instructors informed us that they were not going to give us an easy class. Instead, they were going to teach us everything that we need to be successful,” Burns said.
Burns spoke about the many life lessons they also learned from their instructors.
“Mr. Scott told us from the very first day that we were our brother’s keeper. We all knew what he was saying, but as the weeks went by, we began to fully understand the meaning behind those words,” Burns said. “We came to this school to become apprentice lineman, but today we are leaving as much more than that. We are graduating as men ready to go out in the workforce and make a life for ourselves and our families. We are graduating with the understanding that things won’t always be easy and won’t always go our way. But with the right attitude, we can make it through anything that life throws our way.”
Dr. Dale McInnis, president of RichmondCC, applauded this class of linemen, which is the fifth one to come through the program and draws from eight different counties in both North and South Carolina. They chose to come to college during the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and they chose to enter into an “essential workforce” that would never be “put on pause,” he said.
“People these days are always looking for the easy way out. But you all did not. You chose the harder path, the more valuable path that is going to lead to something meaningful and worthwhile for you and your families. I’ve got a lot of respect and appreciation for that,” McInnis said.
McInnis also thanked the families for coming, especially the family of Joey Keane. In attendance was his wife, Roxanne; one of his sons, Jody, and Jody’s fiancée, Brandi Simmons. Keane’s other son, Brian, was not able to attend.