ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
“Take me home, country roads, to the place where I belong,” is a line John Denver sings on one of his records.
And Delores Frantz of Durham also knows full well how beautiful Marion County’s country roads can be.
“Getting out and seeing the country-the weather in the mornings is so pleasant,” she said.
Frantz, 64, reads about 300 rural electric meters a month as she travels the county’s back roads and climbs farm fences.
But she had some initial concerns when she first took the job reading meters for Flint Hills Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
“I was so afraid I wouldn’t read the meters right,” she said. “But I struggled with it, and I’m going on four years.”
Chuck Goeckel, assistant manager at Flint Hills RECA, said he’s pleased with Frantz’s work.
“She does a very good job and is very prompt in reading her meters,” he said. “She gets them turned in as soon as possible, and she does a wonderful job for us.”
But this is a much different job compared to her past employment experiences. Frantz worked as a nurse’s aide for 30 years.
“I worked at three different nursing homes and a hospital, and I put in enough of that,” she said.
Frantz raised seven children from a marriage of 36 years before she divorced and later met husband Daniel Frantz, 60, who has two children from his first marriage.
The couple were married in 1997, and she moved from Ellsworth to live with him on his farm in rural Durham.
A family photo of the blended family includes grandchildren who now number 13 and two great-grandchildren.
“I love my kids and I love my grandchildren,” Frantz said. “But before I married Daniel, I had grandchildren there (in Ellsworth) when I would get home from work and (I would) take care of them until midnight.
“Then I would get up and go to work the next morning-so it got to be a little bit much.”
But now, living about 100 miles away, she said she feels better about being able to visit with her grandchildren.
“It’s different being a grandmother because grandmothers are supposed to spoil them, not discipline them,” Frantz said.
And she worked hard to raise her seven children, including two daughters who are legally blind, she said.
“When you’re faced with something like that, it’s not something you think about before it happens.
“So when it happens, you just deal with it-there’s no big deal.”
Frantz worked at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro after marrying Daniel but decided to officially retire from her nursing career about a year later.
“After I quit working at Parkside, I decided ‘I’m not done yet.'”
She saw a notice in an RECA magazine that the company was looking for rural meter readers.
“So I filled it out and sent it in,” Frantz said. “I thought, ‘They’ll never ask me-I’m an old woman.'”
But she received a call from Goeckel to come in for an interview, and afterward, he called back and said, ‘You’ve got this job, if you want it,'” Frantz said.
Frantz was asked what type of vehicle she drove. She told Goeckel she had a 1991 red Chevrolet Cavalier convertible-a present from Daniel before they were married-and Daniel drove a Ford four-wheel drive pickup.
Goeckel suggested Frantz might want to use the four-wheel drive on the country roads because they can be difficult to maneuver on in inclement weather.
Although Daniel farms and works fulltime at Circle D Corp. in Hillsboro, he also works part-time for Flint Hills RECA, helping his wife when necessary.
This means the couple can share the two vehicles for meter reading, switching according to the route demands and the weather.
“It appears that it can be dry as a bone all month and if it’s going to rain, it’ll rain when I have to go read the meters,” she said.
“But that’s because I dread having to get out in bad weather.”
Frantz said her on-the-job training to read meters four years ago had an auspicious beginning.
“They sent me out with a guy, and it was the coldest day I’ve ever been in,” she said.
“We didn’t get started very far, and he had a flat tire.”
By the time they went to Marion to get a new tire and back again to follow a route he was unfamiliar with, her feet were cold as they crawled over fences, Frantz said.
“But I’d always lived on a farm, so it was really no big deal-I wasn’t surprised.”
Frantz must read her meters between the 23rd and the 30th of each month, she said.
“And I don’t have to read every day as long as I can get them done during that week.”
During the winter months, she tries to read as early during the week as possible because of the variances in the weather.
“And in the summertime, I usually leave here by 7 a.m., and I like to get home at least by 2:30 p.m. because it’s getting pretty warm by then.”
Frantz said she doesn’t believe in procrastination.
“If you’ve got a job to do, do the job. If you put it off, you’ve always got it in the back of your mind-you can’t sit down and do anything because you ought to be doing that.”
Her week of travel circles her home as she heads south of Hillsboro and on around to Lehigh and Canton-a trip of about 500 miles.
“And I read the Maxwell Wildlife Game Reserve where there’s the buffalo and the oil wells,” Frantz said.
Meters at the reserve-with four or five dials- are more complicated than at rural farms and homes, she said.
A typical rural meter has a line of four to six numbers.
“Some of them are on the house-that’s not any problem,” Frantz said.
“When you go in your yard, you’ll notice there’s a transformer. And you follow the transformer to the pole, and the meter’s usually on the pole.”
She wears pants that are tight around the ankles and comfortable shoes for the walking required on her job.
“In the wintertime, you want to be warm, but you don’t want to be overdressed because you’ll get too warm in the pickup,” Frantz said.
And has she had to change a flat tire during her four years?
“Yes, I’ve changed one and most of the time I’ve been fortunate being where someone said, ‘Your tire’s getting low,’ and they change it for me.”
Her one tire-changing experience was between Lehigh and Canton and she said she was determined to do it herself.
As she pumped the jack, she noticed it wasn’t working properly, and she had to shore it up with a rock and some blocks of wood she found nearby.
She was finally able to jack up the car.
“I looked like I’d been rolled in the dirt and I was cold, but finally I got it changed.
“I’m one of these people, I’ve got to show them-even if I can’t do it-I’m going to show them I tried. And I got it done.”
And that philosophy carries through with the rest of her job, whether it’s dealing with dogs, adding new meters to her route or climbing locked fences.
One day she climbed a fence, previously installed about eight months before.
But this day, the new security alarm was turned on and it beeped loudly as she headed back to her car.
“I turned and I was looking, and I thought that was a good picture of me if they had me with my mouth open.”
Approaching her job with a sense of humor and duty, Frantz said the best part is getting out and seeing the countryside.
“Sometimes people stop and talk to me,” she said.
“I know everybody I meet, most everybody is so pleasant, so sweet.”
And how long will she continue doing this?
“I don’t know, it depends on my health,” Frantz said. “Hopefully, I can hang on to it until Daniel retires, and then he can take over.”