Nancy McGinnis, First Woman Electrician in Sioux City

 “My dad was an electrician and so was my uncle. I grew up watching them fix things around the house, and they were always pulling my brother aside to show him. My dad was involved in the local Union and held positions such as the treasurer and secretary. My mom worked for the phone company on the chord board, and so did my aunt. I had two sisters who also worked for the phone company. I tried it for a while, but I just didn’t like it. I was ahead of my time. I wanted to be able to do something that I could completely support myself on my own. I was a great typist, so I went to WITCC and went through their secretary program and graduated, but it just wasn’t for me,” explained Nancy.

As Nancy stated, there just wasn’t any wire splicing when you were working on the phone boards, or color-coding splicing and connecting wires when you were working as a secretary. 

“To me, those things were interesting; and they kept telling me there was no way I was strong enough to do that kind of work. I found a way to use the tools to my advantage, and I was able to do the work,” said Nancy.

She was in her mid-20’s, and ready to take the helm of her own career voyage, when she was able to secure an apprenticeship as an electrician. The year was 1978.

“My dad knew I was the first female electrician in Sioux City but he did not want me to be in the union. It was a big deal at the time, and he was upset that I didn’t make a big deal about it. What I didn’t want to do was make more waves for any other women that might consider this as a career. I just wanted to learn how to do the job, and to do it well.”

At that time IPS, what is now Mid-America, was out digging ditches and laying underground cable for new houses coming up in the Siouxland area. 

“My dad thought I would quit if I had to be out digging ditches, but I liked the work. I liked being outdoors, in the elements. In the early part of the 70’s, prior to my working in the field, my dad was a big part of the Power Houses being built down at Port Neal. That brought in electricians from all over the world, including quite a few electricians from New York.” stated Nancy. This became helpful later when she moved to New York because they remembered her father and agreed to give her work.

Once her ditch digging and laying underground cable was completed, IPS laid her off.

“There were men who had families to support, and they needed the jobs,” was the response she received according to Nancy.

She dug in her heels and applied at Kessler Electric, which is now Thompson Electric today. Nancy put in more than 8,000 hours of learning the electrician trades while helping bring houses up to code in Sioux City, continuing her education taking electrician classes, and then finally passing her journeyman’s test.

“A year after I graduated I heard about work in St. Louis. So, me and three of the guys from the area headed out to St. Louis. A couple of weeks later we’d heard there was more work, better work, out in New York. And the people in charge in New York remembered my dad, and how good he had been to them when they were working in Sioux City.”

Working out in the elements, in the city that never sleeps, was not everyone’s cup of tea, as Nancy recalls. But it was something she knew she had to do. She was 32 at the time, it was 1984, and an absolutely eye awakening experience.

“I lived in Rutherford, New Jersey, I bought a house near Sandy Hook, and I worked in New York City. From my backyard, you could see the Twin Towers standing proudly in the background. It was exciting. 

My first day there, you’d walk down the street and see movie stars stepping out of limousines. I was helping do the wiring in the CBS studios building, and Clint Eastwood stepped into the elevator I was in. He was going to KRAFT services to eat lunch. 

I did the wiring in Lee Iacocca’s office in the Pan Am building. We had to rewire the Reader’s Digest Corporate Offices every couple of years,” recalled Nancy.

It wasn’t all fun and games. As Nancy put it, you needed to be aware of your surroundings at all times. If people were walking fast, or running, there was a reason for it. You don’t look around and find out why; you just flow with the crowds.

“There were tolls everywhere: bridges, tunnels. You couldn’t walk anywhere alone at night. We’d be near the hospital on Flatbush Ave., and you’d hear gunshots all the time. My dad wouldn’t speak to me for the first year I was out there. I think he was more scared of what I would tell him,” said Nancy.

But, keeping her shoulder to the grindstone, she did her job, and she did it well. Soon her boss had her running errands for him, and then she started to work on the first Fiber Optics network.

“It started at The New York Times, and then we worked in Trump Towers. You’d go to work in nice clothes, and then once you got to your site, you’d change into work clothes. It was a full 12-to-15-hour day depending on how far you had to commute. From Staten Island to New York was a 1.5 by ferry, and then jump on the subway. You didn’t talk to people. You read a book, or a magazine, and that was how you started or ended each day,” explained Nancy. 

“I made good money, $3000 a week. I fed my retirement with that money after taxes and expenses. You weren’t there to make friends; you were there to do a job. There was a beginning, middle, and an end to it, and each piece needed to be done and done correctly. Not everyone accepted me, and I was fine with that. I was there to work, to do a job, and to do it correctly,” said Nancy.

After 10 years in New York, Nancy returned to Sioux City briefly in 1994, then left for work in Las Vegas looking for work in the big casinos as an electrician. She couldn’t get hired for any length of time and returned to Sioux City a year later. She was hired to work at Thompson Electric and helped wire all of the Gateway Buildings in North Sioux City, then for a while she did some of the electrical work in the Sioux City Community School System, before finally finding a home tending to the electrical needs at Western Iowa Tech Community College. It was from this job that she retired.

“I worked the 4 a.m. to noon shift at WITCC, because it was quieter then and you could get more work done without interrupting a class or a meeting. My last day of work was December 31, 2018. I worked for 40 years as an electrician. It just went by in a flash, from my apprenticeship to retiring.”

By Amy Buster

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