City employee set to retire after 41 years on the job
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
It takes grit, determination and a true love of what you do to remain in the same job for decades, something increasingly uncommon in today’s fast-paced, digital-fueled world. But Glendive Public Works employee Bradley Schaaf has accomplished that and then some, set to retire at the end of this week after a remarkable 41 years spent on the job with the city.
Schaaf, who began working for Public Works in early 1977, is currently the longest-tenured employee working for the city. He has seen six mayors come and go during his tenure, beginning with Mayor “Jigs” Allen and ending with Mayor Jerry Jimison.
“He knows where all the bodies are buried,” Jimison joked about Schaaf during a recent city council meeting.
Schaaf was a fresh-faced 21-year-old when he saw the city Public Works department had an opening and he applied. While he couldn’t have known at the time it was the only job he would ever hold, Schaaf said it turned out to be the perfect fit for him.
“It’s a combination of things,” Schaaf said of the reasons behind his job longevity. “I like the work I do, I like the people I work with and the city’s been good to me I think.”
Schaaf said he was first drawn to the job due to his innate adeptness at working with mechanical things, which has also served to sustain him in his job all these years. He said having that kind of skill is an absolute must for Public Works employees, given the wide variety of things they have to deal with to keep the city running.
“It encompasses many things,” Schaaf said of Public Works. “You’ve got to be mechanically inclined and be able to look at something and figure out why it doesn’t work and make it work.”
Prior to his retirement, and for many years before, he primarily worked as a heavy equipment operator for the city, but in his long years on the job he has done just about every duty Public Works has in its repertoire.
“When I first started here, I was kind of low man on the pole, so I did a lot of burying water lines and fixing water leaks,” Schaaf said. “I’ve seen everything. There’s probably nothing I haven’t done. I’ve done just about everything you can imagine.”
Besides his innate love of mechanical things, Schaaf said another reason he stuck around with the city for so long are all the good people he has met and worked with there over the years. He noted that with the summer interns Public Works brings in every year, his job has allowed him to get to know a lot of local people in 41 years.
“Every year, we hire summertime help, and they’re usually high school kids or college kids, so in 41 years, you get to meet a lot of people,” Schaaf said.
He added that he has also always felt that the Public Works management has been “fair” throughout his career and that he has really enjoyed working with the other full-time employees, many of them long-timers like him.
“I would say working with the city crew (is my favorite part of the job). The city’s always done a good job of hiring good people,” Schaaf said. “As for the full-time people, they pretty much stick around. There’s guys here I’ve worked with for 20-30 years easy.”
In his more than four decades with the city, Schaaf has obviously seen a lot of change in Glendive. One positive change he’s appreciative of is when the city built a new shop for Public Works in the Sunrise Subdivision, moving them out of their former home, which was the old Northern Pacific water tanks on the city water treatment plant property, buildings that are now seriously dilapidated, with one of the roofs caved in.
“This is such a nicer place compared to where we were,” Schaaf said of the new city shop.
On a negative note, Schaaf bemoaned that the community just isn’t as vibrant as it was when he first started working for the city.
“It really has (changed), the city. (When I started), there were a lot more people in this town and this town was thriving. Then after the oilfield left (in the mid-80s) and they put that Kmart up in West Glendive, it just shut down the downtown,” Schaaf said. “That’s a big thing. A lot of people have left this town and its not what it used to be. It’s just steadily on the decline, I think, and it hurts.”
Schaaf also paused to give his two cents on all the mayors who have passed through city hall during his time.
“I’ve seen a lot of mayors and there were some really great ones and some really not up to my liking,” he said. “Jerry, the mayor we have right now, he’s a heck of a good guy. I’ve never had any problems in dealing with him and he’s always fair.”
Jimison reciprocated the praise back to Schaaf, calling him “very knowledgeable” about all the different aspects of Public Works and saying that the city will sorely miss his experience and expertise.
“I know that Brad has been a very dedicated city employee, showing up for work every day for 41 years, and he is an excellent Public Works machine operator and at one time served as an assistant foreman there for a couple of years,” Jimison said. “We are going to miss him dearly because it’s hard to replace that kind of experience, but maybe there’s a young person waiting in the wings ready to put in the next 41 years.”
Whoever takes over his spot, Schaaf said that the community needs to be patient with them, and with Public Works as a whole. Like anyone else who works for the city, Schaaf has heard all the criticisms over the years: Why aren’t the streets in better shape? When are you going to fix that pothole? When are you going to rake the leaves out of the park? But Schaaf said people need to realize just how wide-ranging Public Works’ duties are — from water service to sewer service to street repair to garbage collection to landfill operation to park maintenance and more — and that the department does things as quickly as it can with the resources available.
“You just got to be patient, it don’t happen overnight. We’ve got priorities of things we’ve got to do and things people would like us to do,” Schaaf said. “You got to understand there’s things that come first and if time permits we’ll try to get to it and get it resolved.”
Come Jan. 1, however, those issues are no longer Schaaf’s concern. He’s put in his 41 years fixing leaky water lines and filling potholes, and now he’s just looking forward to finally having some time to himself to do all the things he wants to do.
“I want to do some travelling. I want to do some fishing, some hunting, some agate picking,” Schaaf said. “I just want to enjoy myself and do some things that I haven’t been able to do because I’ve been too busy.”
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.