Cheryl Limbach was just looking for a good fit when she took a part-time clerical job at OPPD’s North Bend office. The job turned out to just that and much more.
She never intended to be a trailblazer at the utility, someone who took leadership positions never before held by women. But that’s exactly what happened. And March, which is Women’s History Month, seemed the perfect time to share her story.
Limbach recently retired after a 23-year career – 27 counting her four years working part time. The last position she held was manager of OPPD’s Elkhorn Service Center. In that role, she led OPPD’s metering crews, troubleshooters, street lighters, underground services and equipment operators. She was the first woman to hold that role at OPPD.
It wasn’t always easy, she said. She had to earn the trust of departments and crews previously been led by men who had done those jobs before moving into management.
Limbach knew that it was a tough task, but she was up for it. Years before, while finishing her bachelor’s degree and raising two sons, she also went through the Utility Line Technician program at Metropolitan Community College, where she learned to climb the poles and had the opportunity to do everything else the hopeful line techs did, every Saturday for 18 months.
“I knew I had to relate to what they were doing and what their job was,” she said. “I’m not ever going to say I can do the job like our field folks can, or restore power, but I learned a lot and it gave me a whole new outlook on what they do. It was an eye-opener, and very beneficial.”
Limbach said she was lucky that early in her OPPD career, she was able to move around and help in other OPPD facilities.
“They had me helping clerical staff in the Elkhorn Center and the Irvington Center (which closed in 2004) and others, which gave me a much different experience,” she said. “I wasn’t full time, but I was working full-time hours and I kept getting more and more responsibilities and I loved it.”
Limbach became a full-time employee in 1999 as a junior clerk at the Irvington Center. She worked there until 2004. After that, she took a job as a performance improvement specialist in the customer service department.
“The role was in the T&D area and they were doing a reorganization, and I helped streamline the processes as they went through that,” she said.
Limbach started thinking about a leadership position while she was in that role. So when the job of area supervisor at the North Bend office opened, she went for it.
She got the job, and that began a string of firsts in the utility for Limbach. She was the first woman to serve as an area supervisor. Later, she was the first woman to become a Distribution Services manager and finally, manager of the Elkhorn Service Center.
In the last several years of her career she was also the Construction manager of OPPD’s storm team, a role that included overseeing the restoration of the largest outage in utility history after a tornado struck the area in July 2021.
The Distribution Service role, which later morphed into a service center manager role, was, in Limbach’s estimation, the best of the service center manager roles.
“The fast pace, the technology aspect, was great,” she said.
Her career highlights include arranging for all the line crews at all the centers to use a mobile command service; working to get better hours for the troubleshooters position at OPPD; and helping develop and implement procedures and policies for the “wires down crews,” who are responsible for repairing house services and identifying down wires.
Those crews have been able to reduce the time of restoration events by allowing line techs to focus more on circuit restoration. The crews also maintain public safety during outage restoration efforts.
While Limbach didn’t set out to break any barriers in her career, she is aware she did just that and she chokes up talking about it. It wasn’t always easy, she said, but she really hopes that going forward, the trail is easier for women who want to follow her path.
“I never wanted to think I was anything special,” she said. “There were numerous women in the company who came to me to ask me about my job, how I got to where I was, and I mentored some of them. I hope I made a difference.”
This year, Limbach decided it was time for her to let someone else take on the next challenges at OPPD. She mentions new technologies like advanced metering infrastructure, which enables two-way data communication between utilities and customers, and the new outage management system. Walking away from those challenges was hard, because had she stayed, she would have wanted to see them to fruition.
“The department and the utility are in good hands, and it was time to get someone new involved in that right away. This was a good point for me to say ‘I accomplished this and feel good about it.’”
Since retirement, Limbach said when she’s out and about, she notices OPPD trucks everywhere. Seeing those makes her smile.
Now that she has retired from OPPD, she has time to reflect and think about how big of a presence OPPD has. That’s something she didn’t notice when she was on the “inside.”
Friends and family would remark to her about how passionate she was about her job.
“When you are proud to work for a company like OPPD, the passion is just there,” she said. “My friends always said when someone asked me where I worked, I’d get this big, huge smile and say ‘OPPD.’”
Now she has more time for volunteer work and for activities such as pickleball and golf.
And when that next big storm hits, she will be able to just go back to sleep. She won’t have to worry about mobilizing crews or knowing where power outage numbers stand. She doesn’t think she’ll worry, at least.
“I’m just trying to figure out what retirement is,” she said. “I haven’t decided yet. It doesn’t feel real yet. I’m just trying to catch up on everything and spend time with my granddaughter and family.”
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