At first glance, father and son duo Randal and Chris Orona are a study of opposites in some ways.
As a mechanic and welder in the power plant, Randy generates electricity at the Sundt Generating Station on Irvington.
As a supervisor in the substations area, Randy’s son Chris distributes it.
Randy likes the desert heat. Chris misses the frigid weather of Alaska, where he served in the U.S. Air Force and where it was 45 degrees below zero when he lured his father out for a visit.
But in the things that matter, they’re lockstep.
Family is everything. You keep your word. You show up. You take pride in your work.
Randy, 60, started at TEP 23 years ago, after a career at a Northern Arizona paper mill and a stint helping to build TEP’s coal units at the Springerville Generating Station.
Growing up, Chris learned from his father how to weld and build things. “He could fix anything,” Chris said, crediting his father with his work ethic. He remembers pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks and chopping wood when he was in primary school. They joke that the Air Force was easy on him, comparatively.
Randy’s the one who recruited Chris to move to Tucson eight years ago.
“He said, ‘There’s a planner job in transmission and distribution. I don’t know anything about it, but you should check it out,’” Chris recalled, joking, “It was really just a ploy to get closer to his grandkids.”
It worked. While the two see each other at work infrequently, they live about 20 minutes apart. They spend their weekends as a family, hunting, camping, working in the shop and shuttling the grandkids, now 8 and 6, to their ball games.
For Chris, 40, it was a good move professionally as well as personally. “This is one of those companies that still has a family environment. I enjoy that camaraderie of the team, I like that we have an important mission and that our work is recognized in the community. You show up in a TEP shirt and people know the work you do for them.”
Randy, too, feels that sense of family, noting he’s grateful that he’s been able to “raise” many work sons, mentoring young apprentices as they come through the company, helping them hone their skills.
When Chris meets other employees who worked with his dad, it gives him pride when they share how he influenced their careers and abilities. “You’ve got to make your own path, but it helps that people know where you come from,” Chris said.
Randy, similarly, is proud of what his son has accomplished, from his military service to his dedication to getting his master’s degree while working fulltime. “It’s been great to see him move up in the company into different roles. There’s no limit to what he can be.”
While he looks forward to seeing how Chris’ career unfolds, Randy himself will be looking at retirement in some number of years, just as the coal plants he built are being phased out. The transition promises to be a bit bittersweet. “It’s been a good career,” he said. “It’s been rewarding to be part of providing people with power.”
Happy Father’s Day, gentlemen.