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Quite a career

By Staff | May 1, 2009

Rugby Street Superintendent Jerome Voeller’s last week of work was like any other.

A busy one.

“I’ve been trying to get things finished before I hang it up,” the 60-year-old said. “I guess you can only do so much.”

Voeller certainly has.

He has spent 35 years working for the city, including the past 19 as street superintendent.

It’s an often thankless job, working in all sorts of weather conditions, up early in the mornings plowing snow, cleaning out sewage backup, filling potholes and whatever other tasks are thrown Voeller’s way.

“You start the day doing one thing, then something comes up and you’re going in a different direction,” he said.

Voeller actually enjoys the diversity of the tasks. “I don’t think I could have worked in a factory, doing the same thing every day,” he admits. “There are a lot of challenges, but it’s different day in and day out.”

Each season brings about different responsibilities. The spring is spent filling potholes, street sweeping, pumping water from low spots, and checking lift stations. In the summer it’s mosquito control and mowing city property, replacing curb and gutter and other small construction projects. The fall is spent flushing sewer lines and repairing and prepping equipment for the winter. In the winter, snow removal is the main responsibility. And this past winter was a doozy.

“I guess this winter did me in,” he quipped. “We worked many long hours to stay on top of things.”

He recalls how, during this 35 years, the town as grown. “I remember when the southeast edge of town was the Haaland Home,” he said. “I think we have doubled the number of roads we are responsible for clearing.”

As when he started, the city has just two blades and a loader; however, the equipment used now is more reliable and durable. “You don’t break down as much as in the past,” he said.

When he first began working for the city paying attention to the weather wasn’t on his mind, but since he took over for Casper Volk as street superintendent, watching the weather has been a priority.

“Every night I look to see what weather is ahead and plan accordingly,” he said, “especially during the winter.”

He feels fortunate to have worked with a crew of veteran workers who were versatile. And versatility comes with the job.

Jerome began working for the city in April of 1974, first in the water plant in the summers and then the street department in the fall and winter. Eventually, he became a full-time street worker and was promoted to superintendent in May of 1990.

Prior to his employment with the city Voeller was in the Army and spent six months in Vietnam. He was wounded and returned home in 1971. From there, he worked construction for a couple years and spent time on the farm before beginning his long career with the city of Rugby.

In addition to serving as street superintendent, Voeller wore the hat of city forester. That was almost a full time job in the mid-1990s when Dutch elm disease was a big problem. “For a few summers there it seemed like that’s all we were doing, taking down trees,” he said. “Now there aren’t too many elms left.”

For 20 years Jerome has also been the city building inspector, processing building permits. The landscape has, indeed, changed. More housing developments in the southeastern part of town cropped up, and more building in the industrial park has taken place.

Working for the city means fielding the occasional complaint or two from the public. However, that’s part of the job, and Voeller has handled complaints with professionalism and sincerity as well.

Retirement is bittersweet for Jerome. Cancer took his wife, Penny, last July. “It bothers me that she’s not around,” he said. “We were always planning on doing some traveling (when I finished work).”

Retirement will still include trips to see his grandchildren. Jerome will go to California in June to see his daughter Tracy and his grandchildren, and of course, spend time with relatives living in the area.

He will now have more time to get to those projects at home that have been put on hold, as well as get to the fishing hole a few more times.

Voeller admits it’s going to be strange not heading to the city shop in the mornings. “I guess it will take a few weeks for that feeling to pass,” he said.

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