Adams — What makes electrician John Levesque blush with pride?
It isn't talking about his 31-and-a-half years with General Electric, or the six years he's owned his own electrical business. It isn't recounting his countless hours of free labor poured into wiring houses for Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.
It isn't even that he was recently named the Northeast regional winner for Klein Tools' Electrician of the Year — beating out hundreds of applicants and now going up against five other regional winners for the grand title.
It's how he was nominated in the first place.
"I wasn't expecting it at all," said Levesque of the regional win. "That was surprising, but what felt really good was that my son, with the help of my wife, entered me [into the competition]."
Standing in the middle of his most recent habitat rehab project in Pittsfield — a duplex on Halls Place filled with character and now brand new wiring, thanks to Levesque — the Adams resident quickly followed up his moment of bashful pride with what seems to drive him the most: what he can do for others.
"What I'm hoping to do if I can win the grand prize — and that's a huge 'if' — is donate the $2,500 worth of Klein Tools [given every year for 10 years] to McCann Technical School," said Levesque, a 1978 graduate of the school who credits his shop teacher, George McConnell, with sparking his interest in becoming an electrician. "That would be $25,000 worth of professional electrical tools for them."
The 56-year-old father of two, and proud grandfather of three, started at McCann when he was 14. From there, his professional resume grew: at 19 he earned his journeyman's license as an electrician, then went on to work in various jobs, including management, at GE, getting his master's license while there. Six years ago, he decided he wanted to get back to "working with his hands," and started his own business, RAM Electrical Services, LLC.
It's Levesque's combination of work experience, understanding of safety regulations and community involvement that put him in the running for the title of Klein Tools' Electrician of the Year. The tool company, created in 1857, is family owned, and designs and manufactures professional-grade hand tools for tradesmen, such as electricians. The winner will be announced on Oct. 8 at the annual conference, held this year in Boston.
As far as Levesque's son is concerned, his dad is already electrician of the year, and boss of the year — the 27-year-old "loves" working with his dad.
"He's extremely well-rounded in the field," said his son, Francis Levesque, who has worked with his father as an apprentice for two years. "I don't know many who know as many of the aspects of the electrical field as he does. He has an authentic passion for the work."
He also has an authentic passion for helping others, according to executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity Carolyn Valli, who first met John about five years ago on a one-day volunteer job that his church was participating in.
"He was just volunteering, helping to build and not doing anything electrical at all," said Valli. "He asked me what our greatest need was and I said, 'professionals' to which he replied, 'Well, I'm an electrician.'"
From there, he went on to do the electrical work for the house, and the next house, and the next — not stopping in the past five years. Recently, he signed up to work on six units for the organization, making them zero energy ready, she said.
"He's passionate about affordable housing, food security, and so much more," she said. "He's the epitome of what a community member should be. It's so refreshing, there's no angle in it for him."
Valli and Francis both recounted an instance that they both felt exemplified Levesque's commitment to the community, remembering a cold winter night when the family's electrical business was called in to shut off a woman's power by the fire department, which would leave the North Adams resident with no heat and no choice but to vacate her home. She had no place else to go and no foreseeable way to pay for the electrical work needed to keep the power on.
After putting out a call for help on Facebook, Levesque was able to connect with Valli, who was able to offer free electrical panels that weren't being used by her organization.
"That woman never lost one day in her house because he did all the work for free," said Valli.
Levesque remembered that instance too, saying that the four or five hours of work he did was nothing compared to being able to help someone stay in their home.
"Those are the things I love doing," he said. "You can't just be a contractor, you've got to give back. Besides, I get so much more in return compared to what I give."
His resume of helpful deeds is as long as his safety regulation certifications, which, he said, are important to keep up on, ranging from the small — like installing a used scoreboard at the Pittsfield YMCA so swimmers could see their times — to the big, yet still mostly unsung acts of kindness.
According to Valli, when tradesmen come in from another country, they are required to complete apprenticeship hours, even if they were a master tradesmen in their homeland.
"We've had three people contact us, who came here legally, but still needed to complete apprenticeship hours," she said. "We called John for help and ever single time he said 'yes.'"
The future of the trade is important to Levesque, who worries there will be a definite gap between his generation of electricians and the next.
"There isn't a lot of people learning skilled trades right now," he said. "That's going to be a real problem for our country."
A good electrician — or any other skilled professional — needs to have a good work ethic, work well with the public and, above all, according to Levesque, a passion for the work.
"I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk away from it," said Levesque, who hopes to retire in a few years with his wife of 29 years, Lauryn. The couple owns a second home in the Phillipines, where their oldest son lives with his wife and three daughters, running clinics for children with autism.
"It's never been a job," he said. "It's a passion for me — a lot of tradesmen are like that — the days just fly by, they never drag."
Help him win
Final decision: Members of the Klein Tools company will vote to name the Electrician of the Year from the six regional winners. Ten percent of there decision — based on a criteria scale that also looks at professional achievement, safety excellence and community dedication — will be based on online votes from community members like you.
How you can help: Between Sept. 16 and Sept. 27, visit www.kleintools.com/eoy and vote for your pick of Electrician of the Year. Each finalist, including John Levesque, will have a short video with interviews from community members, family and clients about the tradesman.
More information: Visit www.kleintools.com
If you're inspired by electrician John Levesque's commitment to community service and are looking for opportunities to help, Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, said "One of the things we like to say is, 'you can help build houses, help build up people or help build funds."
Here are some areas you can help:
Hands on: From now until the end of the year, Valli said, there are eight build days groups have not yet signed up for. Get your coworkers together or some friends and grab a hammer.
Work retail: The Habitat ReStore, at 399 Hubbard Ave., Pittsfield, is in need of knowledgeable people willing to work at the store, help clients find what they are looking for, or run the register.
Money know-how: Habitat offers more than just homes, the organization also helps with filing taxes and money management. If you're skillful in this area, help your neighbors plan for the future.
Something else?: If none of these needs fits your specific interests or skill set, Valli said she or someone on staff will be happy to point you to another organization in need. "We usually talk about what you want to do and then think about volunteering, about acting on what you want to do," she said.
For more information: Visit www.berkshirehabitat.org or call 413-442-3181