Man makes pole climb at 89

RYDER, NORTH DAKOTA - George Officer strapped his body belt around an electrical pole to keep his annual birthday tradition intact.

Slowly, he crept up the pole using the spikes on his climbing shoes and working his belt upward.

Retired from the electric company for 25 years, the Minot man has commemorated his work history for the past 10 years by making the climb on his birthday. At 89, he climbed about 18 feet up a pole in Ryder before returning to the ground, where his wife, Jeanice, and son, Rod, stood watching.

"It's harder work now," Officer said. "Your spikes go in too far and then you have to work to get them out. You don't have the strength you used to."

Officer started his tradition of climbing an electrical pole in his hometown of Ryder when he turned 80.

"He just wanted to prove to himself he could do it, I think," Jeanice Officer said. "He talked himself into it."

Officer's grandfather started a telephone company in Ryder in 1907. His father started a light plant in 1917. In 1952, Officer joined Otter Tail Power Co., where he worked for 32 years. He was a service representative, but he also did some work as a lineman.

He remembers the spring that someone shot out insulators near Parshall and he had to climb up a 65-foot pole at 4 a.m. to make the two-hour repair. Neither the weather nor the height were pleasant, he recalled.

He still owns his work equipment, which he brings out each birthday. His grandson borrowed his equipment to work for Otter Tail one summer. He didn't like the big poles, either, Officer said.

Returning his grandfather's equipment one wrench short, the young man explained that he accidentally left it at the top of a 65-foot pole. He told his grandfather that if he wanted the wrench back, he'd have to get it himself because he wasn't climbing that pole again.

Officer isn't sure how many more birthdays he'll keep his tradition. He wasn't sure he'd be doing it this year after getting a pacemaker in October.

"We will see what it's like when I'm 90," he said.


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