Jan Parsons Kept Our Lights On



Jan Parsons

One morning Jan Parsons woke up and knew it was time. Time to retire from only the second job she ever had and held for more than 25 years.

“Now is the time for me to do something else,” said Parsons, division manager at APS. “My husband asked me over dinner the other night, ‘What are you going to do now?’ and I don’t really know, but I plan to visit my grandkids, join the gym and go fishing.”

Parsons found her way to APS in 1985 on a lark. She says she never had a definite plan for her life, but everything seemed to fall in place for her along the way.

Growing up in Steubenville, Ohio, a small steel mill town along the Ohio River, Parsons dreamed of going into law enforcement. While attending the College of Steubenville, she got her first taste of law enforcement working at the local police department. After graduating from college, Parsons came to Phoenix and got a job with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Parsons started out as a fingerprinting technician and over the years worked her way up within the organization. When computers were introduced in the 1970s to make searching for warrants easier and faster, Parsons was one of the first to learn how to operate them in the department.

She put together a computer-training program and went around the state educating other officers on the new technology. By 1981, Parsons was promoted to the human resources department where she processed employee benefits.

After putting in 16 years with DPS, Parsons said a salary freeze put a cap on her earnings. Realizing she would not be eligible for a pay raise, Parsons began looking for a new job.

A want ad in a Valley newspaper for an APS customer service representative sparked her interest. The entry-level job offered the same salary, $28,000 she was making with DPS after 16 years.

“I thought I would be taking customers’ money,” she said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Almost 300 people applied for the job and Parsons was picked along with 12 others.

“I consider myself incredibly lucky to have gotten that job,” she said.

It wasn’t until after a six-month training course that Parsons realized she would not be taking customers’ money behind a counter, she would be a design engineer.

“I wanted to drop out (of the class), but I figured if the people in class could do it, I could too,” she said.

Looking back on the random series of events that led her to APS, Parsons said everything seemed to work itself out to her benefit.

At APS, Parsons started planning electrical distribution centers. In layman’s terms, figuring out how to get power from a line to a house or subdivision.

“I felt very fortunate having this job, so I wanted to give back to the community,” she said.

Parsons joined the hospital board, school boards, Lions Club, the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, Rotary, the Gila County Foundation for Higher Education, and for 15 years coordinated the Christmas food baskets and Stocking Stuffers Golf Tournament.

She also managed to find the time to be a foster parent to four teenagers.

In October of 2001, Jim Spencer retired and Parsons moved into his position as manager of the Payson office, which covers Show Low, Holbrook, Payson, Snowflake and other smaller surrounding communities.

Parsons said she hired someone more qualified than herself to fill her position when she moved up.

“I surrounded myself with people who were better than me so it was easy for me to lead,” she said. In 2003, Parsons was promoted again, this time to manager of the Gila-Navajo area, which has 42,000 customers.

Since taking over the reins, Parsons said she has improved the service center, boosted evaluation scores and improved reliability.

“I am leaving the dock in a lot better shape than when I came,” she said. “When I first came, anytime it rained, the lights went out.”

Today, anytime there is an outage crews restore power within hours.

In early January when three poles were swept away in floodwaters, taking out power to residents in Tonto Basin, crews had restored power within eight hours. During the Willow Fire, a fire at the Ponderosa Campground burned seven poles down and eight strands of wire just after noon.

“It was our worst nightmare,” Parsons said.

When crews arrived on scene to put new poles up, the ground was still hot, but by 5 a.m. power was restored.

“The guys I worked with are just phenomenal. They are so committed to keeping the lights on,” she said. “I am proud that I had the opportunity to be their leader.”

Mikel Cole is taking over Parsons’ position. He will be stationed out of Show Low. Todd Thompson and Wade Hartwigsen will be the local presence at the Payson office.

With APS safely in new hands, Parsons said she is excited to start a new chapter in her life.

“Whatever is coming around the corner will be good,” she said.


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