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Gas leaks, an odor of gas, damaged lines, and carbon monoxide symptoms are all considered emergencies. If you have an emergency, call our emergency hotline at 1-800-400-4271 . Our personnel are ready to assist you 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. When in doubt, call us immediately. 

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Getting Things Done by Your Actions

As our Black History Month article series comes to a close, we're getting to know Lira Pridgen — his surprising start at Peoples, his 49 year career, and some beautiful lessons he learned along the way.

  • Lira Pridgen, former Operations Manager at Peoples, holding his 45lb8oz King Salmon.

It’s the stuff of legend. A hiring story to end all hiring stories.

The year was 1968. Lira Pridgen had graduated from high school at the age of 17 and had a job stocking shelves at a local grocer. His pride and joy was his ’64 Chevy Super Sport, and he was taking it out for a spin at lunchtime when a guy in a Corvette pulled up beside him.

“The guy waved at me, and we took off,” Lira says. The two cars were racing through Johnstown when a police car pulled up behind them. The officer pulled the Corvette over, and Lira kept going.

“I saw the rear lot of the Peoples Gas office, so I pulled in and decided to lay low,” Lira recalls. But when he noticed the police cruiser circling the block, Lira ducked into the office.

“The woman at the front desk asked if she could help me, and I just stared back,” Lira laughs. “I asked if I could have a job application.” Lira was in no hurry to get back out on the road, so he took his time filling it out.

A few days later, Lira got a call from Peoples to come in and take an employment test. He took it on his lunch break and was hired two weeks later as a “rouster,” or what we’d consider a “fitter” today.

“The rest is history,” Lira says. In 2016, Lira retired as Operations Manager out of Johnstown, PA.

“I remember starting off at $16/day, and I thought that was great,” Lira thinks back. “It didn’t really dawn on me until I retired how much things changed.”

Talking through the changes he saw throughout the years, Lira notes that he was only the third black man to be hired in Johnstown, and the second black supervisor in the company.

“To be honest, race never seemed to be an issue for me,” Lira says. “Was prejudice there? Sure, it was everywhere back then. But I always tried to be the best I could be.”

Lira remembers years ago, he was called out to an older part of Johnstown.

“The ‘old money houses,’ we called them.”

One of his crews was renewing service at a big house, and they crew ran into an issue with the elderly woman who owned the home. A black man on his crew had gone up to the house to talk to the woman, and she refused to let him in the house.

“We sort of thought, ‘here we go,’” Lira recalls. Then the work leader, who was a white man, went up to the house, and she refused to let him inside, too.

“So when I got there, I go up to the door, not sure what’s going on,” Lira says. “When she opens the door, the woman says, ‘Not another one!’”

“It took us a while but we finally learned…she hated beards!” Lira laughs. “All three of us were bearded men, and she couldn’t stand beards. I guess you really can find prejudice anywhere if you look hard enough.”

Lira explains that early on in his career, he experienced more push-back over his age than his race. When he was promoted to Supervisor at 29 years old, he had about 15 employees reporting to him, and only two who were younger. But his commitment to being open and honest helped to overcome that challenge

“I don’t think you can get respect without giving it,” Lira says, “and I always told the truth.”

As he continued his career with Peoples, he strove to be a role model for other black employees.

“I wanted to show other employees that you can’t expect any more or any less, but if you do your job, it’ll happen,” he explains. “You just have to believe it, and you just have to do it.”

Lira took an active role in increasing diversity at Peoples as he moved into management, not just for people of color, but for women, too.

“For a while, we used a hiring service that didn’t factor in race or gender when choosing people to interview,” Lira explains. “So I’d just be sent white men for a job again and again.”

“Now, when we hired someone, their race and their gender didn’t matter,” Lira emphasizes. “We hired the person who was best for the job. But you better believe that I was going to at least give women and minorities the chance to interview for that job.”

When he was told that the hiring service couldn’t filter people by race and gender, he took it in stride, saying to keep sending applicants until he had the opportunity to interview a diverse group of people. After that, they could make a fair decision.

Today, Lira feels that if companies can just take action in ways like this, creating a more inclusive culture shouldn’t be that hard.

“I think we almost need to get back to the basics and don’t overcomplicate it,” Lira says. “Just respect each other.”

For Lira, this focus on respecting people and providing opportunities greatly affects how he recognizes the achievements of African Americans throughout history.

“Those historical figures, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, I couldn’t grasp them,” Lira admits. “To me, I think about the people I saw in my community, the people I saw who struggled and survived.”

“When I was a kid, things were pretty bad,” Lira recalls, “but then I’d go by Bethlehem Steel and see black guys getting foreman jobs. I’d see black people going to college, starting businesses and bettering themselves. Those are the people who inspired me.” One of those men was Lira’s father.

“My dad was a sharecropper in North Carolina who couldn’t read or write,” Lira says. “But he moved up to Johnstown, he became the chairman of the deacon board at our church, and he got a job at Bethlehem Steel.”

“He worked at Bethlehem Steel for 35 years and retired when the mill flooded in 1977,” Lira adds. “He always worked hard. He got things done by his actions, and it made me want to do that, too.”

Thinking back on his own career, Lira reflects on the many people who helped to guide him.

“There were so many people, too many to count, who helped me and backed me up.” he offers. “That’s what I miss most about the job – the people.”

“BUT,” he adds quickly, “I was born to be retired. I’ve travelled, gone hunting, fishing, got to do a lot of gardening. I caught my first King Salmon in Michigan, 45lb 8oz.”

“And I thank Peoples for that,” Lira says. “Life just keeps getting better.”

After 49 years here, we can say for sure that Lira made life better for a lot of us at Peoples, too. From the people he worked with every day, to the employees who looked up to him, to the customers he served, he always respected people. And he got things done by his actions, just like those men and women he always looked up to.

So here at Peoples, we suppose we should thank fate for Lira Pridgen ducking into our office back in 1968. Or maybe his ’64 Chevy Super Sport. Either way, it was a lucky day for him—and for us.

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