By Libby O’Connell
When Odest Logan retired after 37 years working on the gas side with PG&E, he truly rode off into the sunset — but that wasn’t the last we’d hear of him.
The Oakland-born-and-raised self-styled horseman has spent his retirement riding and passing along his love of horses and Old West culture to a new generation of African-American kids in the East Bay. His development of the nonprofit Spurred Up recently earned him a Jefferson Award for excellence in public service and has set many young people up for happier trails in life.
Logan began at PG&E at 19 years old in the gas meter repair shop on Shotwell in San Francisco and soon became a gas service representative, serving the Hunters Point area in the city for the next 17 years.
“We took it upon ourselves to be the heartbeat of the company,” he said. “We did everything we could to help our customers. I would give many of the elderly folk my home phone number because they couldn’t get same-day appointments and I could not see myself having my older customers waiting when I could make time to get to them.”
His wife was nonplussed when calls started coming in at home asking Logan to take a look at their furnaces, but she quickly adapted.
“My wife basically became my dispatcher,” he laughs. “They’d make a cake for me for my family. That was one of the greatest times that I had.”
Logan then spent another 17 years in revenue protection — a role sometimes referred to as “the watt cops” that can often present tense situations. But Logan took a customer service approach to the job: “What helped a lot was the gas service rep training. Because the folks I ran into may have done something illegal but they are still our customers and you have to think, ‘Why did they do it and what are their circumstances?’ In compromising situations I would tell them, ‘My goal is to get you corrected.’”
Logan estimates that over his time in the job, he was able to recover about an $8 million loss of revenue.
At the same time, Logan became involved in PG&E’s Black Employee Association, working on a committee to engage with the community and educate them about PG&E’s role in serving their neighborhoods. He recalls setting up community barbecues and Thanksgiving turkey giveaways that served more than 600 customers in the area around the Hunters Point housing projects.
“We wanted to broker the understanding that PG&E is with them in their community,” he said.
The employee resource group gave the company an opportunity to look at projects from the African-American community’s perspective and also helped to raise money for scholarships for new generations of prospective employees.
His retirement on horseback made a childhood dream a reality and he brought his constant commitment to the community along for the ride. Growing up, Logan watched TV cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, who he says taught him the Cowboy Code — values similar to those he was learning at home from his grandparents.
“For example, a cowboy always tells the truth, the highest banner of honor is honesty,” Logan said. “Always be helpful when someone is in trouble; in order to have a friend you must be a friend.”
In creating Spurred Up, Logan hopes to instill those same values in the kids he mentors through the program.
“I see kids surrounded with video games, violence in their neighborhoods, lots of unkind or hateful words and peer pressure,” Logan said. “Having them leave the city and go out to ranches for a new experience and help feed, water and care for animals — to be in a different environment — I want to help them learn the values I grew up with.”
While he always enjoyed time on horseback, he got serious about the practice about seven years ago, when he went on a four-day trail ride with relatives that changed his life.
“Understand there is riding a horse and then there is being a passenger. It’s not just a horse, it’s your partner. When you’re a rider, you understand. You ride because it’s a proud thing to be able to ride a horse.”
That trail ride led to the creation of Spurred Up, which has since created many young horsemen and women in Oakland who often win honors at California Junior Cowboy Association, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and the California Cattle Penning competitions.
“One of our youngest riders — when he finally controlled that 1,200-pound animal, the smile on his face was just amazing. Now he just commands respect for his horse,” Logan said.
Logan and his wife of 40 years have two grandchildren, including 15-year-old Julian, who has become an accomplished competitive horseman and is the Junior Division Champion of the CCPA. The Spurred Up team is planning trail rides of its own in Northern California with the Northern California Black Cowboy & Cowgirl Coalition.
Logan says that after surviving a cancer scare in 2015 he appreciates every moment on horseback.
“It’s a feeling that I really want you to understand: When I saddle up and mount my horse, I forget about everything else,” he said. “There is no other time that is better spent than when I am in the saddle.”
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.