Computer technology has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, and perhaps no one knows that better at Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO) than Vera Severin.
Severin, an advanced metering infrastructure coordinator within SWEPCO’s Valley District, started her career at Valley Electric Membership Cooperative (VEMCO) in 1971 working with keypunch – a data entry machine used to input everything from payroll to billing. Over the years, Severin’s role changed with emerging technology – from early IBM machines to desktop computers – and her growing set of skills moved her quickly into management to oversee key projects such as the installation of CAT 5 computer network cables, more commonly referred to as Ethernet cables, and Automated Meter Reading devices.
“I enjoy working every day and that’s why I’m still doing it,” said Severin, who celebrated her 50th work anniversary on April 19. She is one of three current SWEPCO employees to reach that milestone and the 9th longest currently tenured employee at American Electric Power, SWEPCO’s parent company. “I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs over the years and been a part of some great projects. To me, going into computers was the best thing I ever did.”
The Natchitoches, Louisiana native – who lives on the same farm that has been in her family since 1889 – got her introduction to computers while working at her first job out of high school in Los Angeles, California.
At the time, in 1964, Severin said Northwestern State University in Natchitoches wasn’t fully open to people of color, and so she and a couple friends decided to move to California to continue their education.
“I had an aunt who lived out there, and I went to night school and got my first job working at Karl’s Shoe Company (owned by actress Debbie Reynolds’ second husband, Harry Karl) as a switchboard operator,” she said. “They offered a program to go to City College at night, and so I took some computer classes.”
The shoe company had a computer department, and Severin soon transitioned from a telephone switchboard operator to working computer keypunch. Years later, when she returned to Louisiana in 1971, that skill would be instrumental in her landing the job at VEMCO.
“When I moved back and was able to get this job, it was a big thing for me,” Severin said. “I still can’t believe I got it. You had to do a test back then. I don’t remember what the test entailed, but I know going to computer school in L.A. really helped me because I knew how to do everything they wanted to get done.”
When she started at VEMCO, Severin was the only person of color in the building. She said she didn’t face many issues regarding racial discrimination, but she knew it was rare for a person of color to hold an office job at that time. Since then, she’s witnessed more diversity at SWEPCO.
After working for approximately five years with keypunch, Severin transitioned to being a computer operator, a position that enabled her to keep up with the latest technology.
“We went from those old IBM computers with the floppy disk drives to desktop computers to laptops and then to desktop computers with CAT 5 cables to connect to the Internet,” she said.
Severin said learning how to make those CAT 5 cables was one of the most challenging projects of her career, and she was in the midst of it when SWEPCO purchased VEMCO in 2011.
In addition to working in IT and data processing departments, Severin’s career included a brief stint in inventory control and she coordinated the switch to automated meter readers in the fall of 2004, the project for which she is most proud.
“It was a project that really had a positive impact companywide,” she said.
She is working on a similar project in her current role as SWEPCO begins to replace AMR meters. Severin adds meters to the AMR system, troubleshoots problems and ensures readings make their way to billing.
In addition to her work, Severin also is particularly proud of her work with the United Way. She said she is so glad to be part of a company that allows its employees to participate in United Way campaigns and learn about the organizations it serves. She has worked as a United Way facilitator for three years, in which she coordinated visits to Providence House, Volunteers of America, American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries of Northwest Louisiana, The Goldman School at the Arc of Caddo-Bossierand other organizations the United Way supports.
“The United Way helps so many people,” she said. “When I went on the first tour, it just tore my heart up. I saw how much they do to help the community and it opened my heart to donating.”
Severin has been involved in the organization’s annual volunteer-led Make a Difference Day in Natchitoches where she planted flower beds at the Natchitoches Council on Aging in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“I like doing that kind of stuff,” she said. “I guess it’s the farmer in me.”
When she’s not at work or volunteering, Severin raises horses and cows on her family farm south of Natchitoches and is an avid cook. She also enjoys hunting and fishing on Cane River. She has one son, Stephen, and two grandsons, Steven and Jacob and a granddaughter, Katie.
Congratulations, Vera on 50 years of service!