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2017

Florence Ruble 

Data Collection Supervisor
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, October 12, 2017 2:14:00 PM

Florence Ruble

When Florence Ruble began her career at Metro Transit in 1985, she was the only person in the scheduling department with a computer. Later in her career, she helped the agency begin using technology that would help automatically collect passenger boarding data – at times climbing to the top of 10-foot ladders to mount detection equipment on light poles and other street fixtures. But when she retired after 32 years of service, it wasn’t her proficiency with technology that people remembered her for. It was the way she supported those around her, and especially the employees she led over 23 years as a Data Collection Supervisor. At her retirement, co-workers said Ruble was always the one to suggest and organize a potluck, or to pick up the phone and listen when Data Collectors encountered issues on the road. The relationships she built, Ruble said shortly before her retirement, are what kept her coming back for more than three decades. “I got more comfortable and had such good people to work with, so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to stay here,’” Ruble said.

Before she started, though, Ruble wasn’t quite sure what she was getting into. She applied for a job as a Data Processing Aide after seeing it advertised in the newspaper. It seemed like a good fit, she said, because she’d done similar work at the Powers Department Store, which was closing. But, she said: “I just assumed it was a garage with a bunch of buses. I never imagined how big it was.” The organization Ruble stepped into didn’t look much like the one she left behind, though. In her first few years, Ruble helped transfer hand-written route information into a computer system that built operator schedules. It would be several years before others in the scheduling department would also begin using computers. The next leap came with the arrival of Automatic Passenger Counters, or APCs. The technology allowed passenger and schedule data to be automatically collected through sensors, instead of being counted manually by employees. Because the technology could only reach a portion of the system at first, Ruble helped develop sampling methods that expanded their impact. The work was hands on, too – Ruble helped mount sensors in the field and pulled disks that stored data from the buses. While that technology replaced some of the manual counting that took place, Ruble continued to oversee Data Collectors who spent their days counting bus and light rail passengers and tracking on-time performance. That information helps verify and supplement the automatically-collected data. Ruble said she was proud of the work she and her team did over the years. “I know the information we collected over the years made a difference,” she said. “It’s so important because that’s really the first step in building the schedules.” 

Outside of work, Ruble enjoyed spending time with her family, including husband Jim and several pets, and following the Minnesota Gophers. Shortly before her retirement, she said she’d miss her co-workers. “After seeing them every day, they’ve really become family,” she said. Ruble passed away in December 2017.

2017

Renee Stafford, #603 

Operator
| Thursday, June 01, 2017 10:36:00 AM

Traveling between the University of Minnesota and her Mounds View home on Route 25, Renee Stafford started to think she might like working as a bus operator. At 19-years-old, she submitted an application but was told she was too young. But the thought persisted and a month of her 21st birthday, after reaching the minimum age requirement, she tried again. It was the beginning of a career that would span more than four decades, hundreds of thousands of miles and countless passengers and end with Stafford retiring as Metro Transit’s longest-tenured female operator.

While Stafford didn’t initially expect to spend her life as a bus operator, she quickly grew to enjoy the work and stayed on after earning her degree in education. It was a surprising decision that raised eyebrows among family, friends and Stafford herself. One of just a few female operators, Stafford was also introverted and largely unfamiliar with the urban environment she found herself working in. She remembers being “terrified” the first time she drove the bus alone in heavy traffic during rush hour – a Route 17A that ran from downtown Minneapolis to Uptown.

The fear didn’t linger long, though. With each customer she met and each mile she drove, Stafford’s confidence grew. At her retirement, she was remembered as a bright and cheerful presence both on the bus and with her peers at Nicollet Garage. Stafford spent the last seven years of her career on Route 9, developing friendships with many longtime customers. But all those who boarded Stafford’s bus were greeted warmly. “I talk to everybody now, even if they don’t look particularly happy,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a game, but I definitely take it as a challenge to get people to smile.” Customers could also be assured of a safe ride: she retired with 37 years of safe driving, which she credited to a commitment to Safety Keyes and a habit of expecting people to do the “dumbest, most dangerous thing they could do.”

Stafford retired in June 2017, exactly 41 years after she began. At her retirement, Stafford said it was the relationships she developed that she ultimately cherished and will miss the most about working at Metro Transit. “I have friends that I pick up every day, and I’m going to miss that,” she said. In retirement, Stafford planned to spend more time traveling, golfing and enjoying life.

See a video of Stafford taking her final trip on KARE-11​.

2017

Terry Hinchcliffe, #5157 

Facilities Technician
| Monday, May 01, 2017 3:09:00 PM

Terry Hinchcliffe

Terry Hinchcliffe was producing ammunition at the Twin Cities Arsenal when a friend encouraged him to apply for a job at the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In 1977, he started working as a cleaner at the old Northside Garage, beginning what would become a 39-year career in transit.

After gaining a few years of experience in Bus Maintenance, Hinchcliffe moved to the Overhaul Base where he began working in the brake and body shops. As he settled in, he found his most satisfying work came when he had the opportunity to put his creativity to use. Over time, he developed a reputation as a talented and inventive fabricator, fulfilling visions that were often born out of crude drawings and vague notions. “Many times it was so basic you had to ask, ‘What did you even draw?’ or it wouldn’t even be drawn but just discussed,” he said. Hinchcliffe filled in the gaps, though, earning trust and gaining more freedom to create as his career progressed. Among his many inventions were custom lift devices that made it easier for technicians to remove bumpers and radiators. He also helped create two Twinkle Buses, specially-decorated buses that were a fixture of the Holidazzle Parade for many years. The first version was wrapped in metal panels, netting and around 20,000 holiday lights, each individually zip tied. “I was always given a lot of freedom to build anything I thought we needed, which was challenging but also rewarding and a lot of fun,” Hinchcliffe said shortly before his retirement.

Hinchcliffe spent most of his career in Bus Maintenance. But looking for more chances to get outside, he spent his final three years as a Facilities Technician. The job involved snow removal, painting and installing shelters, among other duties. It also provided Hinchcliffe a chance to apply his fabrication skills in new ways. Pulling together equipment, he created a fabrication shop devoted entirely to facilities. He also continued to invent, designing a hydraulic jack that could lift heavy waiting shelters in and out of trailers to make installation easier.

After 39 years of service, Hinchcliffe retired in May 2017. In retirement, he planned to spend more time with his family, including several children and grandchildren, and pursuing his hobbies – dirt biking, hunting, fishing, camping and playing the guitar.

2017

Rob Milleson, #5267 

Director of Bus Maintenance
| Monday, May 01, 2017 10:07:00 AM

After moving from rural Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, Rob Milleson studied broadcasting and spent a few years working for a concrete company, a hotel, a metal tubing plant and the Dayton’s department store. In 1978, his search for something that fit brought him to the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In his first job as a vault puller at the old Northside Garage, he had to squeeze in and out of tightly-parked, exhaust-filled buses, at times entering through the window to read fare box meters. While it wasn’t glamorous work, Milleson had found the opportunity he was looking for. And he took full advantage, embarking on a 39-year career that eventually led him to several leadership roles in Bus Maintenance.

Not long after he began, Milleson moved into Bus Maintenance and began working his way up from Cleaner to Helper to Technician. While he didn’t have much experience, he learned on the job and quickly grew to enjoy replacing transmissions, troubleshooting faulty electrical components and other maintenance tasks. In 1986, he took his first leadership role as a supervisor, briefly working at Nicollet Garage then taking the second shift at Heywood Garage. Working at Metro Transit’s largest garage brought more responsibility but the days went quickly and brought a sense of accomplishment, Milleson said. “Pull out was always stressful but it was also very satisfying when you got through it,” he said. As a supervisor, he devised a road call card system that kept better record of repair needs so buses wouldn’t end up back on the street before they were fixed. And he created the first-generation electronic stub sheet, a tool for scheduling buses in for work.

More responsibility followed. In 1998, Milleson became the Maintenance Manager at Heywood. Three years later, he would become the Manager of Maintenance Administration. He was named the Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance in 2006. As a leader in Bus Maintenance, Milleson oversaw fleet plans, bus purchases, garage assignments and a variety of personnel issues. He also took a more active role in improving fleet reliability, regularly checking in with garages to follow-up on repeat issues that appeared to be avoidable. “Sometimes, road call buses would slip away without being addressed only to fail again,” he said. “I was drawing attention to that and building the understanding that we needed to fix it the first time and fix it right.” In 2003, Metro Transit’s reliability began to steadily improve. For the last four years of Milleson’s career, he served as the Director of Bus Maintenance, overseeing a department that had grown to include nearly 500 technicians and support staff.

Approaching retirement, Milleson said he’d never imagined the path his career would take, but that he was grateful for the opportunities that arose along the way. He wasn’t eager to take much credit, either, saying the department’s successes came from having a strong and capable team that worked together to make decisions. “I certainly don’t have all the answers, so I’ve always felt that it was important to include other people in the decision-making process as much as possible,” he said. “One of the most important roles in this position is listening to people, and I did a lot of that.”

After 39 years of service, Milleson retired in May 2017. In retirement, Milleson said he looked forward to spending more time with his family, including six children and 12 grandchildren, working on his home, woodworking and traveling. “I hope I made a difference where I could,” he said. 

2017

Cheryl Kienietz-Hall, #360 

Instructor
| Wednesday, March 01, 2017 3:51:00 PM

Cheryl Kienietz-Hall always thought of her employee number, #360, as a symbol of coming full circle. And her career did eventually come to a close in almost the same place it began, at least geographically. That’s because Kienietz-Hall finished her career at Metro Transit as an Instructor, working just across the street from the site of her first job at the since-shuttered Shamrock Neatway Plastics factory. “I worked a lot of places in between but I find it really kind of ironic that I’m retiring just across the street from what was my first job,” she said.

While her career began and ended on the same block, Kienietz-Hall collected plenty of experiences during her 38 years as a bus operator and instructor at Metro Transit. Her career began in February 1979 when, after nearly a decade of riding the bus, she resolved to see what it was like to be in the driver’s seat. The decision came after Kienietz-Hall had graduated with a degree in psychology, ruled out furthering her education and was searching for good-paying, steady work. “I didn’t want traditional women’s work, because it was traditionally low pay,” she said. When Kienietz-Hall interviewed, she was surprised to be asked how she’d commute without a car. But she made it work, riding the bus and roller-skating to the old Northside Garage.

Not long after she started, Kienietz-Hall moved to the old Snelling Garage and began working as a driver for Project Mobility, serving residents unable to use regular route transit because of their disabilities. Kienietz-Hall was in part drawn to the work, she said, because her mother was in a wheelchair. She was also among the first operators to volunteer to drive buses with lifts, which at the time were available on only a portion of the fleet. “It was important to me to have the ability to pick up anybody,” she said.

Kienietz-Hall was later among Metro Transit’s first group of full-time instructors. While taxing, Kienietz-Hall said she enjoyed helping new operators and that the work was a good match for her personality. “Training has really been the best fit for me,” she said. “It takes a lot of energy, but I’ve always been able to put myself out there.”

Kienietz-Hall retired in March 2017, just over 38 years from her first day on the job. At the time of her retirement, she planned to take a few months to think about what she wanted to do next. But more time reading, attending theatre, learning how to cook and several home improvement projects were among the activities she looked forward to.

2017

George Hernandez, #1354 

Garage Coordinator
| Friday, February 03, 2017 2:33:00 PM

George Hernandez

George Hernandez wanted the kind of job he could stay in until retirement. So after leaving school and briefly working at an aluminum foundry in St. Paul he applied at two places he thought would offer steady employment – the U.S. Postal Service and the Metropolitan Transit Commission. MTC was the first to respond. And just like that Hernandez’s 36-year ride in transit began.

Hernandez started his career as a bus operator at the old Snelling Garage, where his two older brothers already worked. He immediately liked the job and continued to drive up until his retirement, maintaining a clean driving record the entire time. But he also saw a chance to help his fellow operators. So when he was offered a new role as an Instructor in 1985, he gladly took it. “I always liked helping people – that’s why I think that job fit me so well,” Hernandez said. Hernandez also spent several years providing peer support, responding when operators needed someone to talk to after a traumatic incident. 

In 2011, Hernandez was asked to serve as East Metro’s Garage Coordinator. As Garage Coordinator, Hernandez helped schedule new operators, coordinated quarterly picks and stayed in close contact with the Instruction Department to ensure training requirements were met. “It’s a lot of scheduling,” Hernandez said. “You have to know what’s going on next week and the week after.”

More than that, though, he was an all-around problem solver who was always eager to help, even when it meant staying longer or being pulled away from other work. And as one of Metro Transit’s largest garages – there were nearly 400 bus operators at East Metro at the time of Hernandez’s retirement – there was always plenty of work. “There were days I’d look back and think, ‘What did I get myself into?’” Hernandez said. “It definitely kept me on my toes.”

After 36 years, though, Hernandez decided he was ready to have more control over the course of his days. As he looked forward to retirement, he said he was eager to spend more time exercising, traveling and with his family, including wife Joanne, son, four daughters and ten grandchildren. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and I still enjoy it,” he said. “But there’s another part of life that I’m looking forward to.”

2017

Tim Dixon, #5510 

Mechanic-Technician
| Friday, February 03, 2017 2:00:00 PM

Tim Dixon

Early in his career, Tim Dixon was driving a bus through the wash rack and got it stuck, a discouraging experience that caused him to rethink whether he was in the right line of work. But he stayed with it, moving from Cleaner to Fueler to Skilled Helper to Mechanic-Technician – acquiring skills that would eventually lead him to a first-place finish in Metro Transit’s Bus Roadeo. Looking back at his 36-year career, Dixon said he was grateful he stayed with it. “I’m glad I didn’t quit because it’s really been a blast,” he said shortly before his retirement. “I feel very fortunate.”

The fulfillment came not only from getting better at his work, but from the relationships he developed over the years. Dixon spent time at every service garage except for Ruter, and lived under a mile from East Metro. But he felt most at home at South Garage, where he spent the last 15 years of his career working as a Mechanic-Technician. “I put on more miles coming here one way than I would have all week going to East Metro, but it just felt like home here,” Dixon said. “It was a really tightknit group.”

The camaraderie didn’t keep Dixon from building connections throughout the organization, though. Over nearly a decade on the ATU Local 1005 board, he worked with management and union representatives to develop an employee resiliency program and other training initiatives. “I never really considered myself a leader but that kind of came with the job,” Dixon said. “You listen to people and see what you can do to help.”

There were plenty of light and memorable moments, too. When South Garage opened in the early 1980s, the facility was surrounded by undeveloped land full of wildlife, providing an opportunity to chase rabbits. During the blizzard that hit the Twin Cities on Halloween 1991, he spent 15 consecutive hours pulling buses out of the snow. And amid a massive rainstorm, he literally swam through the parking lot to close a bus window. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dixon said. “It was a deluge that never ended.”

At retirement, Dixon said he was looking forward to moving with his wife to a family cabin in Webster, Wisc., where he could devote more time to fishing and pursuing new hobbies like gardening, canning and smoking food. A lifelong lover of children, Dixon was also eager to spend more time with his four grandchildren. But saying goodbye still didn’t come easily. “The easiest part was getting hired on and the hardest part now is retiring,” he said.

2017

Thomas Gilligan, #798 

Operator
| Wednesday, February 01, 2017 2:17:00 PM

Thomas Gilligan

Thomas Gilligan has always enjoyed being on the move, happily volunteering to cut the grass with a riding lawn mower and, growing up, speeding around the city on his bike or riding Twin City Lines buses. So while he didn’t always aspire to be a bus operator, it was a profession that he fell naturally into. The love for driving persisted throughout what ultimately became a 41-year career. He found plenty of other things to like about the job along the way, too.

Gilligan’s career began in November 1975, after his best friend’s mom encouraged her son and Gilligan to apply at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission. His friend didn’t get the job, but Gilligan got the call. His first stop was the old Nicollet Garage, but he would eventually spend time at every garage except for East Metro. As a longtime extraboard operator, Gilligan also had a lot of variety in the routes he drove. He immediately like the driving, but it took time to learn how to deal with passengers, Gilligan said. He eventually got the hang of it, though. “Most people were there just for the ride, but I met a lot of wonderful, warm human beings – as well as a few people from outer space who were fun, too,” he said.

Among Gilligan’s most memorable passengers was former Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson, who rode the bus several times a week to and from his Wayzata home. Before public transit agencies were prohibited from providing charter service, Gilligan also helped transport visiting sports teams, including professional and college baseball teams playing at the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Gilligan got the most satisfaction, though, from his time as a Project Mobility operator serving individuals whose disabilities prevented them from using regular route service. “It was a very personal job,” he said. “You really felt like you were doing something special.”

Gilligan retired in February 2017, at the time Metro Transit’s longest-serving operator. Leaving on top, he said, was a meaningful end to his four-decade career. “I’m really kind of a humble guy, but yeah that does mean something to me,” he said. In retirement, Gilligan plans to spend more time with his family, including his son, daughter and two grandchildren, and taking fishing trips to Canada. While Gilligan looked forward to the next chapter, he said he’d miss the people he worked with and the job itself. “I still absolutely love the driving,” he said.

2017

Russ Dixon, #918 

Operator
| Wednesday, February 01, 2017 1:58:00 PM

Russ Dixon

Growing up, Russ Dixon’s father taught him to be more than a bystander. The lesson stuck with him through adulthood, leading Dixon to get involved in a variety of different activities during his 30-year career as a bus operator. Dixon served on the Transit Safety and Security Committee, a group that regularly met to discuss diversity and spent 18 years as a steward with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005. “My dad always used to talk about how important it is to get involved in whatever system you work in, so that’s what I did,” he said.

Dixon’s career path was also influenced by family. After growing up in Chicago, he followed his brother to Minneapolis and applied at the Metropolitan Transit Commission on the advice of his brother-in-law. A month after submitting his application, he got a job as a part-time bus operator at the old Shingle Creek Garage. A few years later, he went full-time, briefly working at the old Snelling Garage before moving back to Shingle Creek. When a favorite dispatcher retired, Dixon transferred to Heywood Garage. The move led to more opportunities to engage with the community, which became something of a specialty. One of his most memorable experiences was the years he spent driving the specially-decorated Twinkle Bus in the annual Holidazzle Parade (including one year in which he took the bus through the community, following the Route 5).

While Dixon enjoyed the unique opportunities that came his way, he got just as much enjoyment out of his day-to-day work. He spent most of his time driving routes that served North Minneapolis, where he lived. “What was fun about that was how you got to know people,” he said. “I looked forward to seeing my customers. We’d laugh and joke all the way until they got to their stop. It was really a blast.” Dixon had just as good a time with his co-workers, whom he treated as family. That closeness led Dixon to become a strong and vocal advocate for his peers and to take his role as a mentor seriously. “I always used to preach that you had to give the best eight hours you had because this could be not just a job, but a career,” he said.

Dixon retired in February 2017, with plans to spend more time traveling. At his retirement, he said: “The people here are more than co-workers, they’re family. That’s what I’m really going to miss.”

 

2017

Kathy Jones, #3049 

Maintenance Clerk
| Sunday, January 01, 2017 3:46:00 PM

Kathy Jones was working for a printing company when the woman living in the upper unit of her duplex told her she would soon be leaving the Metropolitan Transit Commission and that she should think about applying for her job. It was a chance piece of advice from a neighbor she’d never see again. But it opened the door to what would become a 40-year career for Kathy, who would soon leave the printing company and begin working for MTC.

When she began in 1976 Kathy served as a payroll clerk, reviewing trip sheets at the old Snelling Garage to help ensure operators were paid correctly. “It was really a serious job,” Kathy said. “Everyone was on edge because you didn’t want to make any mistakes.” Undeterred, she moved to the Finance Department, where she used a ten-key adding machine to balance farebox collections. After that, she spent about a year working as a transit information representative helping customers plan trips over the phone at a call center based at the old Nicollet Garage.

When she took a job as Maintenance Clerk at Nicollet in 1981, Kathy found a permanent home in Bus Maintenance. The job was a relatively new creation for the company, requiring her to keep manual records of timecards, inspections and repairs, all stored in three-ring binders. While she worked at a desk, the realities of the garage were never far off. Smoke built up and eventually filtered through the bottom of the door and into the office space where she worked. “It looked like the fog was coming in,” Kathy remembered. Kathy was also the only female in her work area. But while her clothes smelled like diesel at the end of each day, her co-workers treated her well and she enjoyed the work. So she persevered. “I enjoyed what I was doing, so why would I want to change?” she said. “I was having too much fun. I didn’t want to give that up.”

Eventually, though, the time to move on arrived. In January 2017, Kathy retired with 40 years of service and plans to spend her retirement traveling, visiting friends and with her family, including a son, daughter and three grandchildren. Looking back, Kathy said the thing she’ll miss most is the people she worked with at Nicollet, throughout the transit system and through the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005.  “There’s a lot of good personalities” she said.

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