Telecom Pioneers answer call for those in need

20 PIONEERS jay, larry and bob working

Telecom Pioneers, from left, Jay Vican, Larry Burgee and Bob Willey repair “talking books” for libraries to serve the visually impaired and physically handicapped.

GEORGETOWN — What do some telephone company employees do in retirement?

Folks like George Brower, Jay Vican, Larry Burgee, Dave Herron, Will Wical, Bob Willey and their colleagues put career trade skills to use as Telecom Pioneers – volunteers who repair “talking books” destined to serve the visually impaired and physically handicapped.

Funneled through the U.S Government’s Library of Congress, the Telecom Pioneers troubleshoot old analog and newer digital talking book players and make necessary repairs.

Devices deemed in working order are packaged and shipped – free, no postage needed for the Library of Congress – to the Public Archives in Dover. From there, they can be signed out through Delaware’s public libraries.

“We do all the books in Delaware, all of the players,” said Mr. Vican, who retired after 43 years of telephone company service.

20 PIONEERS george, will and dave working

Telephone company retirees George Brower, Will Wical and Dave Herron get to work as volunteers with the Telecom Pioneers.

“We’ve been repairing them here for about 30 years,” said Mr. Brower.

On the list are nine volunteers in the Pioneers’ Caesar Rodney Council, part of the New Vision Pioneers/Liberty Bell Chapter that is part of Telecom Pioneers of America.

Their repair shop is a niche in the Verizon Wireless complex at N. Race Street and Depot Street in Georgetown.

Tools and parts are provided.

If the task is repairing analog players, Pioneers usually meet every week. Digital player repairs are about every two weeks.

“About a year ago they switched over to the new digital ones,” said Mr. Herron. “Open one of these (analog) up and it’s full of lot of mechanical parts that always had to be adjusted and replaced. The new sets are much simpler to work on.”

“Now, the old mechanical, there wasn’t a part in there we couldn’t replace,” said Mr. Vican. “Now that we’ve gone into the electronics there are certain circuit boards that they don’t want us to work on.”

“We have a checklist we go down … to identify what the problem is. Sometimes it’s not the most obvious thing,” said Mr. Brower, chairman of the Caesar Rodney Council.

Service manuals are provided.

Intertwined with repair work is friendship and conversation.

“When you get a bunch of retired people together, we do what retired people do – we talk about our jobs,” said Mr. Vican.

Talking books span the spectrum: music, the Bible (King James version) and even a 43-hour “book” on Abraham Lincoln. Modern technology incorporates a flash drive option.

The Telecom Pioneers has a historical connection with Alexander Graham Bell, founder of the telephone.

“The Pioneers worked with Bell,” Mr. Herron said.

A non-profit charitable organization based in Denver, Telecom Pioneers of America was founded in Boston in 1911. Among its original 700-plus members: Alexander Graham Bell who received the first membership card.

Pioneer membership consists of actively employed and retired employees in the telecommunications industry. It is one of the world’s largest corporate volunteer organizations, logging millions of volunteer hours in meeting the needs of communities in the United States and Canada.

All repairs must be logged.

“Last year we repaired 370 hours with 126 sets – digital or cassette/analog. They are mostly digital now,” Mr. Brower said.

The Telecom Pioneers’ mantra is “answering the call of those in need.”

Caesar Rodney Council volunteers do more than repair talking books.

Cart-like Boss Cars were revamped for use by the physically handicapped and donated to Easter Seals in Georgetown. That project is the specialty of Pioneer Quentin Welch.

Similar carts – both electric and arm-powered – were donated to schools, including Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown, said Mr. Wical, who is taking his turn as the council’s president.

“Most of these guys have been past presidents of the Caesar Rodney Council,” said Mr. Wical of his retired volunteer co-workers.

Locally, Pioneer fundraising activities have benefited the Food Bank, Home of Brave II, American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, among others.

Their charity, community service and work for the Library of Congress have not gone un-noticed. Several years ago, the Caesar Rodney Council received Governor’s Volunteer Award from Gov. Jack Markell.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

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