Winter weather can create many things, such as snow drifts, traffic jams and frozen pipes to name a few. But, for the Grand River Dam Authority’s Perry Friedrich, winter actually helped create a career. Born and raised in Topeka, Illinois, Perry was accustomed to northern winters. But, being familiar with something and actually looking forward to it are two separate things. After graduating from Western Illinois University during one of the recessions of the 1970s, he was working for the railroad – outside — when a very cold Illinois winter began to set in. With the frigid air, and the promise of more to come, Perry saw a classified ad for a job that was performed inside. His eyes had lit on the ad for a lab technician at the nearby Havana Power Plant.
“I thought it was very good,” he said. “It was inside and it was steady work. It was in an industry that produced a useful product that everyone used; I thought it was a good industry with good benefits.”
At that time, Illinois Power was starting to build a new coal fired unit at an existing power station and the quiet man with a quick wit was grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the start-up process.“I enjoyed it, I got to be a part of it, to watch and find out how it worked. It was my first powerhouse job. I was amazed by the operation and efficiency of the ion-exchange systems and appreciated the opportunity to learn the testing program and participate in the start-up of a new condensate polisher.”
He also enjoyed the people he worked with, he and Roger Burger became good friends and when Roger moved to Nevada to work at Sierra Pacific, Perry followed to interview for a lab position.
“I went for an interview, but during this time the man who interviewed me, Jack Marcy, had come out here to build the Coal Fired Complex for GRDA. He remembered me and called me for an interview here,” he said. “I came out and was so excited for the opportunity to be in charge of the lab. I was also getting to go through the start up process again,” he said.
When Perry arrived at the GRDA site in the spring of 1980 there was no finished power plant, it looked more like a construction site. His department set up a temporary lab in the warehouse and then another in the demineralizer building before the proper lab was complete.
“It was challenging and fun to determine what tests we would have to run on water, coal and oils and then order the equipment and chemicals, write the procedures, and implement the programs.”
During this time, the lab was learning and supporting the start-up of the various treatment systems that were being built. According to Perry, it was a busy and exciting time.
Though he was prepared to move about the country for his career, Perry’s heart was still in Illinois. He and Vicki Workman had become engaged before he moved to Pryor. The couple’s long distance relationship was shortened that summer when they exchanged vows in Petersburg, Illinois in July.
Their first summer in Oklahoma was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. Officially, it was one of the hottest on record. Perry remembers clearly the 21 straight days of 100 degrees and above. But, after becoming acclimated, he and Vicki found that they both liked the area and the recreational opportunities it had. As their sons Spencer and Fletcher grew, the family enjoyed camping trips and later hiking.
“I got to do everything I wanted to do with my sons, I love to hunt and hike. Spencer, now a Doctor of Dentistry, liked to hunt and Fletcher, a student at the University of Texas, liked to hike, it worked out really well.”
After spending nine years at the CFC lab, Perry accepted the challenge of setting up another department. Up until this time GRDA had contracted most of its environmental work.
“We had been testing the site-discharge,” he said. “But, as time went by, we assumed more and more of the environmental testing. We needed a full time environmental person and I got to start the department.”
There have been quite a few changes in environmental rules and regulations since Perry first set up shop for GRDA, noticeably in the sheer amount. The government does not send notifications of new rulings. Starting each day with a review of the Federal Register, he must make his way through the daily government publication looking for any ruling that may apply to GRDA.
“There is no such thing as a 100 page rule anymore,” he said. “You have to constantly monitor it, going through each one to see if we will be affected. The responsibility is ours; we have to find things, to prove things. This is one instance where you are assumed guilty unless you are able to prove your compliance.”
Looking back over his career at GRDA, Perry is proud to have been a part of Team GRDA. The CFC lab that he worked so hard to develop has since been recognized as an award winning laboratory by professional organizations
“Through the years, as I look at the accomplishments of the CFC lab, I’ve been glad to be able to say that I was there when it started. The folks who have continued to successfully support the power plant have kept what they needed and have adapted the methods and expanded their responsibilities to meet new challenges as they have come along,” he said.
In the environmental field, GRDA’s compliance efforts have placed the Authority in good stead with the various environmental regulatory agencies. As the Environmental Department Superintendent, Perry also served as the Designated Representative (DR) which is the official point of contact for the Acid Rain program and the mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program.
His retirement plans include a bit more time for activities with his family and his hobbies.
“We have a conceptual design,” he laughed. “The specifics are not nailed down yet. But, I do plan on being a little closer to family, hunting, spending some time on my bicycle and in the garden. Vicki is looking at starting an on-line business as well.”
Working for a public power utility for the last 32 years, Perry believes in the benefits GRDA brings to Oklahoma.
“What I’ve noticed is that public power providers are in contact with their customer, they interact with them, the customer is important. Public power also keeps prices down and forces other utilities to be competitive.”
At its April meeting, the GRDA Board of Directors honored Perry with a resolution of commendation, recognizing his many years of service with GRDA. All the GRDA employees also take this opportunity to wish Perry the best of luck in his retirement.
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