By Craig Wilkins
Dale Plemmons, district safety administrator, puts a chair honoring Darrell Blackwell in place as Larry Holm, a transportation generalist at New Ulm, begins the Workers Memorial Day observance held by Mankato/District 7. Photo by Brian Bruckhoff
The chair draped with a highway worker’s vest was set gently into place alongside 29 other chairs April 30 during the Mankato District’s observation of Workers Memorial Day.
The chairs honored Mn/DOT workers who died in the line of duty.
The last chair memorialized Darrell Blackwell, a District 7 transportation generalist who was killed last fall while mowing along Hwy 4 near Fairfax.
Blackwell’s death was the department’s 30th fatality since 1960.
Each chair held a hard hat and a placard denoting each employee and the date they died. Plemmons and other district staff spoke of Blackwell and other employees who died while working.
Participants also included members of Darrell Blackwell’s family.
Larry Holm, a transportation generalist at New Ulm and vice president of AFSCME Local 280, served as master of ceremonies.
A changeable message sign guided participants to the evening WMD observance held by the Metro District at the Camden truck station in Minneapolis. Photo by David Gonzalez
“The death of a co-worker like Darrell really hits home,” he said. “It reminds us how lives can change in a split-second. I hope this event reminds motorists of the dangers we face and to drive carefully to respect the work we do and our safety.”
At Rochester/District 6, speakers included Nelrae Succio, transportation district engineer; State Patrol Capt. Randy Slinger; Russell Hess, regional AFL-CIO president, and Terry Schmitt, a transportation generalist at Cannon Falls.
Schmitt was severely injured in 1998 when a semitrailer collided with his snowplow on Hwy 52 near Cannon Falls.
Schmitt made a remarkably fast recovery from brain, eye and other injuries. The crash, he said, heightened his already keen awareness about safety issues.
“Like the other speakers, I urge motorists to focus on driving safety in work zones, especially paying full attention to their driving.”
“We’ve had two crashes in our area recently attributed to drivers’ being distracted by changing CDs. People really need to pay attention to road and weather conditions and traffic as well,” he said.
Managers, supervisors and workers from the Metro District gathered at the Camden truck station to honor highway workers. The event included a video profiling district employees who were injured at work and their paths to recovery. David Scott, a senior transportation generalist, is shown in the video. Photo by David Gonzalez
A recorded message from Lt. Gov./ Commissioner Carol Molnau was heard throughout the department followed by a moment of silence on April 26.
Because this year’s official observance fell on a Saturday, it was celebrated on different days and in various settings.
Baxter/St. Cloud District 3 held its commemoration at Camp Ripley during its annual employee meeting on April 26.
The Metro District marked its observance on Thursday evening at the Camden truck station in Minneapolis . Employees from Camden and the Cedar Avenue truck stations perform regular night maintenance work in the Twin Cities metro area.
The observance was held at night to emphasize the dangers work crews face during the darkness and to recognize Mn/DOT employees’ ability to adapt working hours and other procedures to serve highway system users most effectively.
The event included a video produced by Gary Andrist, a videographer with Human Resources.
Nelrae Succio, transportation district engineer, addresses employees and guests during the observance in Rochester . Photo by Kristine Hernandez
The video examined the experiences of five Metro District employees who were hurt in work zone crashes and their effects on each worker’s lives and careers.
“The video very effectively told these employees’ stories, their thoughts and feelings and the lessons we all might learn from these incidents,” said Beverly Farraher, Metro District maintenance engineer.
Planning for the event inspired Mary Meinert, a freeway operations specialist at the Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville, to write a poem about the observance.
“Through our freeways cameras,” she said, “I see how chaotic conditions can become. I wanted to show the affection and respect that I have for the people who are out every day working on the highway system.”
Meinert’s poem, “Workers Memorial Day,” reads, in part:
pins and lanyards
An evening pause
in the madness.
A solemn poem,
Mn/DOT remembers 30.