Sam Fengel reflects on 60-year career at Scranton Telephone

~courtesy of The Scranton Journal

It can be said that Sam Fengel literally grew up in the telephone business. The long-time manager of Scranton Telephone Company retired on April 1 after working a little more 60 years with the firm.

Sam Fengel retired April 1 after working more than 60 years for the Scranton Telephone Company. | Scranton Journal photo

Fengel, 77, began working at the telephone office as a child. “I’d eat my breakfast with grandpa and grandma (Sam and Mabel Woodhouse) and then go to work with them,” recalled Sam. “I’d sit on her lap and when the signal came in, I’d connect the call.”

He’s a lifelong resident of Scranton, graduating with the class of 1958. Fengel worked during the summers of 1956 and 1957 for the phone company, going full time in 1958. He took two years off, 1963 – 1965, to serve state-side in the U.S. Army. Returning to Greene County, Sam married a Jefferson gal, Carol, and they’ve lived the next 50-some years of their lives in Scranton.

A lot has changed during his tenure. “When I first started, we still had the old switchboard,” explained Fengel, remembering the crank phones and party lines.

A major change came in 1969 when a new office was constructed and the firm converted to the dial system. At that time, the phone lines were buried underground and customers were switched to private lines.

That system worked well and served the customers’ needs. However, the Technology Age arrived and that necessitated upgrades to handle digital and electronic systems. Fiber optics were added a few years ago.

Another change that has been challenging to handle has been the declining customer base due to the loss in population and to people dropping their land lines, opting for strictly cell phone service.

Fengel laughed as he recalled his first experience with cell phones. “I told the board that cell phones would never catch on. Boy, was I wrong.”

For a period of time, Scranton Telephone was an agent for a cell phone company. The firm is still a member of a cellular group and has a cell tower.

Scranton Cablevision was added to the business in September of 1983. “We erected those big dishes around the building so that we could offer about a dozen channels.” SCAT continues to operate but the big dishes are gone while the number of channels has skyrocketed.

Employee turnover was never a problem at Scranton Telephone. Most of the time, Fengel headed the business with the assistance of a secretary. Delores McDonald was the long-time secretary, working many years there. Emily Hoyt is the current secretary.

Allen Jacob (known as Jake) joined the staff in 2012. He has officially taken over Fengel’s position. Jacob was part of the team installing the fiber optic lines and service to Scranton Telephone customers. When the job was completed, Jake joined the Scranton workforce.

“Electronics has gone by me,” added Fengel. “I turned that part of the job over to Jake.”

Of the many changes he’s seen in his 60-year career, Fengel thinks fiber optic was the best. “Speed is not an issue,” he explained. “Any speed is available to serve individual or business needs.”

Weather has caused Fengel many headaches over the years. He’ll never forget an Easter Sunday blizzard with heavy, wet snow that “laid all our telephone poles on their side.” There was the tornado in the 1990s and no one will forget the Halloween ice storm. Standby generators were a big help in coping with those disasters.

“People were really patient,” commented Fengel. “It just takes time to fix things.

“Those were the bad memories. All the rest of them are great!” stressed Fengel. “I’ve enjoyed it. I sat at the front desk a lot and I enjoyed the people who would come in and visit.”

Fengel offered compliments and thanks to the many local residents who have served on the board of directors of Scranton Telephone Company. When he began working, it was a nine-member board. It dropped to seven members and now operates with five.

“They’ve been good to work with, all of them,” praised Fengel. “I’d like to think that we were instrumental in making the company what it is today.”

Running Scranton Telephone has been Fengel’s mission in life: 24 hours a day / seven days a week / 365 days a year.

“My wife still reminds me of the Christmas morning when the kids were still small,” said Fengel. “Someone called and they had a new portable phone. I went and set it up for them.”

The Fengels’ son Chad lives with his family in Sioux City while daughter Jill is in Fort Worth, TX. They have four grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.

Fengel has no grand plans for his retirement. They’re not much for traveling. He enjoys playing golf but a problem developed with his shoulder so that’s not an option this summer until he gets it surgically repaired and recuperates.

“I’m an outside person. I always have been so I’m not worried about what I’ll do in good weather,” he explained. “But I’m not sure what I’ll do in the winter. I enjoy woodworking and putting jigsaw puzzles together.

“This has been my home. This has been my life,” shared Fengel about Scranton Telephone Company. “I miss coming to work every day and I miss seeing the people.”

Fengel concluded, “I truly enjoyed my career and all the people I’ve served.”

Sam Fengel retired April 1 after working more than 60 years for the Scranton Telephone Company. He saw many changes but says the installation and use of fiber optics has been the most important.

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