Kathryn Kennington

Kathryn Kennington poses for a portrait at her workstation at Umatilla Electric Cooperative in Hermiston on Monday morning. Kennington, a system operator for the cooperative, is responsible for switching lines on and off as well as taking care of power outages and other maintenance.

Despite spending most of her life in the region, Kathryn Kennington, 54, hadn’t done much more than pass through Pendleton or Hermiston.

After working for the Oregon Trail Electric Co-Op in Baker City and La Grande since 1989, Kennington needed something new in 2019.

She got it in February when she left her longtime home in La Grande to start as a system operator for Umatilla Electric Cooperative in Hermiston.

“I just needed a job change,” she says. “That opportunity came up and I was able to take advantage of it.”

The work itself is mostly the same, Kennington says. As a system operator, the same position she held with OTEC, she’s primarily responsible for switching lines back on, taking care of power outages that may occur, and other maintenance.

While some days are spent in her Hermiston office, others are spent out in the field confirming what exactly is out there as UEC updates the mapping of its systems, an especially important task as the co-op’s footprint grows throughout the region.

On Dec. 23, UEC broke ground for the construction of its new substation at Juniper Canyon West, according to a press release, becoming the fourth project that’s already under development with more planned for 2020.

“Some days are busier than others,” Kennington says.

Kennington grew up in Washington and graduated from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, with a degree in music. But after Kennington ended up working at OTEC in Baker City, she decided to dive into her eventual career path when a lineman apprenticeship opened in La Grande.

Kennington took it, completed the three-year apprenticeship, and spent nine years out in the field erecting and tending to power lines.

When she’s not on the clock in Hermiston these days, Kennington lives in an apartment in Pendleton with her husband, who still works in La Grande for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

A self-described animal lover, Kennington spends at least a few hours once per week volunteering at PAWS, the Pendleton Animal Welfare Shelter. Kennington and her husband have two pets of their own: a Great Dane, Tara, and a cat, Snuggie.

Kennington also enjoys going for walks around the parks near her in the city, and says she and her husband have appreciated the greater availability of dining options compared to La Grande.

There have been some adjustments to make as well.

“It’s a new terrain,” Kennington says. “I’m used to the mountains, and there’s not as much timber over here.”

But the biggest challenge is the distance between the terrains.

The commute for Kennington’s husband to La Grande is cumbersome and logs a lot of mileage. Plus, Kennington’s parents have lived in La Grande since retiring and the pets at home present problems for trying to travel between the cities to see family.

It’s likely the couple’s change of scenery won’t be lasting long, Kennington says, as they’re looking into returning to La Grande this spring. Kennington is planning to stick with UEC, she says, and will be renting a place to stay during the week in Hermiston.

However, the Kennington and her husband are already preparing for the move after that.

The couple already owns a house in St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, and are eyeing retirement and one last move in the next three to four years.

So despite spending most of her life in the region, Kennington is headed towards a new terrain altogether.

“I’m not big into the cold during the winter,” Kennington says. “And I’ve had my share of snow.”

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