​By Michelle Brizendine

Being a WAPA employee means more than keeping the lights on. It can also mean creating strong, meaningful relationships as they work both to advance WAPA’s mission and build the foundation of true friendship. One group of retired Upper Great Plains Finance and Procurement employees serves as a great illustration of this kind of friendship.

The group includes retirees Laurie Antonio, Cheryl Jones, Helen Klein, Deb Kludt, Mavis Shine, Linda Smith and Carmen Wiedemeier, as well as Financial Manager Traci Albright, who still works at WAPA.

The group spent years working together and building a powerful relationship that has carried on through retirement. Though the women are in a new chapter in their lives, they still meet up for what they call retreats.

What started as a single small trip together is now an annual tradition.

“We decided we hadn’t seen each other and wanted to get together to catch up,” said Kludt. “And after one retreat, we were excited to plan the next one, which has led to many more!”

Jones, who retired in 2012, speaks of fond memories of traveling to various regional and maintenance offices, and being involved in the development and implementation of Maximo and other systems. When asked about how the women have kept in touch, Jones said, “I’m not sure of who first had the idea. Even though we worked in different states, we talked practically daily, doing our jobs and problem solving. I guess we missed one another!”

Hiking is one of the major activities the group enjoys frequently, but retreats have involved sightseeing, watching movies, playing cards, dabbling in arts and crafts and, yes, some wine and beer tastings.

The group has also ziplined in Las Vegas, visited a monastery, toured caves and viewed Mount Rushmore together. They don’t usually lack for things to do.

“Since I still work, it is a tough group to hang with,” Albright said. “They would like to go to more diverse locations, but still accommodate me with local trips.” The friends typically meet in or around Black Hills, South Dakota. Kludt has fond memories of working with colleagues to make sure they were doing what is right. Now she looks forward to catching up with the group and enjoys having enough time to spend time with her friends one on one.

Albright is reminded by the group that no matter how much change or challenge they faced, having proactive attitudes made them exceptional employees and people in general.

The women continue to support one another via email or Facebook Messenger through the best of times, such as becoming a grandmother, and some of the tougher times, such as battling cancer. Their bonds continue to grow with every event and with every challenge.

“When those friendships continue past retirement, it is a real gift,” said Albright.

The group agrees that retired life is wonderful, and they enjoy being paid to stay home and spend time with close friends. Their advice is to keep your mind and body active, stay socially engaged and find interests outside of your career.

Jones hopes the next retreat will be in Italy. “Then again,” she said, “it really doesn’t matter where we go.”

​Note: Brizendine was a secretary who worked under the MIRACORP contract​.

For many, a friendship forged at WAPA lasts long after retirement. (Staff photo)

Last modified on September 12th, 2023