“I started working for my dad, Edward Ilgenfritz, when I was 10 years old helping to install electricity into homes,” says the patriarch Morgan Ilgenfritz, as he sat at the heavy kitchen table. The two other men at the table, his son and grandson, both had their own electrical contracting businesses. “In those days, it was knob and tube, single wire, 110 volts, and one circuit for the whole house. I had the job because I was the ideal size to crawl under the porches. It was a very tight space.”
Morgan helped his dad with the family electrical business, a new and growing industry that fascinated his father who began his business years before. But when high school graduation came, rather than joining his father, Morgan decided to join the Navy instead.
“I know it crushed my dad, but I had had enough of the electrical business and wanted to see more of the world. When I returned home four years later, I married and was ready to start a family. I realized I needed to have a full time job to care for them.”
Knowing he was looking for employment, a friend invited him to apply at Metropolitan Edison Company, founded in 1922, one of the first electrical distribution companies, to use his electrical background.
“I interviewed nine times, until one day, I saw a sign they needed help in the store room. I told them I would work anywhere, and I was hired.”
Morgan Ilgenfritz started in the storeroom and worked his way up the ladder. When an apprenticeship position became available, Morgan jumped at the opportunity and joined the Local #1261 starting as a groundman helping with labor. His next stop was as a truck driver, ensuring the safety of the truck when it was planted and that all equipment was checked and ready.
His promotions followed in line: second class lineman in charge of his own bucket truck, B chief supervising four men, and 40 years later, he retired as a lineman A chief, supervising five men and two bucket trucks. “Met Ed provided training at all levels emphasizing safety, codes, and customer service,” he says.
“When we were called out in our trucks, in most cases, it was a crisis,” Morgan adds. “For me it was the safety of my crew that was the most important factor. I respect the power of electricity and made sure my crew was safe. I told them I would never place them in harm’s way.”
“We knew what dad was doing was important,” Mark Ilgenfritz adds. “I am very proud of him and the work ethic he instilled in me. In fact, he and my grandfather had me working on electrical motors when I was 10. I would help my grandfather and my dad with electrical work around the house.”
Featured Image: Left to right: Ben Ilgenfritz, Morgan Ilgenfritz, Mark Ilgenfritz—three generations of electricians.
Above: Ben Ilgenfritz founded his own electrical contracting business, Genesis Lighting + Electric, and uses Ford E350 cargo and passenger vans in his fleet.
Like his father, Mark decided he was not going to go into electrical work, and upon graduation from high school went to college for engineering. But when he returned from school, he joined David Smith Electrical Contracting and did residential and commercial installation. On weekends, he would relax by handling electrical installations and construction for friends—whether they were homeowners or business owners.
“I began to reassess my life when I volunteered to help install electrical wiring for a school,” Mark says. “I realized I enjoyed working on my own. I came home one Friday and told my wife Miriam that I wanted to start my own business and had just quit my job. My wife did not look back and became the office manager, working side by side with me. Ilgenfritz Electrical Contracting was born.”
With a new business and new babies arriving, (today the children in the family number 16), Mark and Miriam soon determined that Ilgenfritz Electrical Contracting was a mouthful and changed the name to York Electrical Contracting. Within a few years, the company had grown to six employees and handled electrical contracts for residential, commercial, and light industrial clients.
Fate then played a hand. While on the way home from a commercial job, Mark was in a serious automobile accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury, resulting in the inability to do simple math. After months of rehab, he was told that he would never be able to run a business again. The doctor recommended that he try something like agriculture. The couple sold the company, moved to the country, and started an emu farm. As time went on, and Mark was able to regain his use of math, he realized emus were not for him, electrical work was. He started Mark’s Electric.
“This is the point in the story when I started in the electrical business,” says Ben Ilgenfritz, who founded his own electrical contracting business, Genesis Lighting + Electric. “I was 12 years old. Electrical work is in my genes as you can see by my father, grandfather, and great grandfather.”
In fact, Ben worked for his dad through high school and after graduation until the economic slowdown of 2008. “I moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and worked for a larger electrical company,” Ben says. “We finished a large project and half the crew was laid off with promises of more work weeks away.”
As the weeks turned into months, Ben decided it was time to take matters into his own hands, turning his garage into an office and soliciting customers. Within one year, with a commitment to quality workmanship and exceeding customer expectations, he expanded, hiring his first employee and moving his company out of the garage and into a warehouse. His wife Rachael is the office manager and mother to his five children.
“My dad eventually sold Mark’s Electric to one of my younger brothers, Elijah,” Ben adds. “So Mark’s Electric continues in the family.”
WORK VEHICLE RUNDOWN
Through the years, the trucks that moved the men from job to job and home again centered on Ford.
“Ford has been a good, dependable work van. It runs great and pulls the trailers well,” Ben says. “The passenger van has been refitted with shelves; however, we kept the captain chairs and can easily put them back in when carrying larger crews to the jobsite. We can fit as many as six people without removing any shelving.”
The work vehicle rundown over the years consisted of yellow bucket trucks issued by Met Ed and used by Morgan; Mark used a 2001 Ford E350 extended cargo van; and Ben’s fleet has a 2006 Ford E350 cargo van and a 2008 Ford E350 extended 12 passenger van. As for Edward, back in the day he just walked or rode a bicycle.
The electric industry and code regulations and requirements are constantly changing. Just ask any of these three men. The elder talks of knob and tube while the younger speaks of LED technology and the internet of things. Yet, all three men realize that electrical work runs in the family.
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Barbara Kaufman is the president and CEO of Kauffman Creative Services, a niche public relations company with the personal service of a small town shop, founded in 1985. She can be reached at www.kauffmancreative.com.