Joe Newman Loves To Lend A Helping Hand
By Alexe van Beuren
Joe Newman is a man who likes to be needed. And because of his many roles such as Chamber of Commerce president, Supervisor of the Water Valley Electricity Department, and all-around husband, son-in-law, step-father, and grandpa, his time is in high demand.
Sandy-haired and blue-eyed, Joe Newman was born in Memphis. “1958,” he tells me right off the bat. “But I started school in Water Valley and finished school here too.”
He has spent the majority of his working life at the Electricity Department. “I started like everyone else,” he says, “dragging brush and cutting trees to keep the lines clear. I fell in here at the right time, though, because every couple of years, people would retire.” In January of last year, Newman became the Supervisor, and he takes his new position seriously.
Being an ignorant citizen, I had no idea of what an electricity supervisor might do. The answer? Everything. In his municipal career, Newman has spent his time fencing and aiding in the construction of the ball park, lighting the high school’s baseball field, working on the water and sewer department’s roof, constructing the county’s dog pound, and building upwards of ten houses (some from the ground up) for family, friends, and acquaintances.
“Do you still do physical work?” I ask, and Newman smiles.
“If a guy’s out sick or something,” he tells me, “You’ll find me on top of a bucket truck. Sometimes I have to hold myself back, because the young guys on my crew aren’t going to learn without doing.”
“Do you see yourself as a mentor?” I ask, and Newman nods.
“I hope to be one,” he says. “But I don’t want to retire for another five years.” His cell phone rings, a soft-sounding tone of a rooster crowing, and after promising to check in with someone later, Newman’s back with me. “I’ve got some pet projects I want to finish first,” he says, and goes on to detail what he hopes to accomplish before retirement.
Those include running a separate line out to BorgWarner, “an above-ground dedicated line, because having other people on your line can cause blips, and that causes all sorts of problems for them.” He and his men have begun work on that already, as well as working on upgrading the substation over by the Water Valley Manufacturing Plant. The equipment is worn out, Newman says, and he’s been working with Ole Miss to get free and lightly-used equipment to upgrade it.
“I’d also really like to see the wires downtown get buried,” Newman says, on the idea that it would enhance downtown’s attractiveness.
As a civic-minded citizen, Newman thinks about helping downtown Water Valley a great deal.
“We,” he says, referring to his wife Susan, “try to eat out for dinner at least once a week in Water Valley.”
“Is that to support local businesses?” I ask, and he says, “yes ma’am” without missing a beat.
In his capacity as Chamber president, Newman has been mulling over more official ways to aid local merchants.
“One thing I want to see,” he says, “is moving the Watermelon Carnival downtown. I’ve talked to the businesses on Main Street, and while we’re all having a fine time up in the park, they have a dead weekend.” He shakes his head. “They’re the backbone of this town, and it doesn’t seem right. I think it’s a good idea, but it’s not my decision. Give me input, and I’ll listen to it.”
Like other Water Vallians, Newman thinks that this town is “on the verge of really positive growth.” What concerns him is that “opportunity will knock on the door, and we won’t open it.”
“There are over seventy high school seniors in this year’s graduating class,” Newman says. “I’d like to hope that ten percent of them can find jobs here.”
Like other local citizens, Newman would like to see Water Valley’s youth have more to do besides school sports. But even though he’ wishes the community would provide a skate park along with a host of other town improvement projects, Newman works for the government.
“Everything we want to do costs money, and some people don’t understand that,” says Newman.
That comprehension of the city’s limited resources has given him a drive to do what he can with what is available. After thinking about the bandstand (currently under renovation courtesy of the Town and Country Garden Club), Newman and the Chamber are working towards hosting live music downtown on Friday nights by the second week of May. And when the roof of the water and sewer department started leaking, Newman and the men on his crew took three days to fix it. They saved the City two-thirds of what a contractor had estimated.
“Whatever comes along that needs doing,” Newman says, blue eyes bright. “If I can do it, I do.”