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2019

Karin Warren 

Senior Accounting Specialist
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, March 07, 2019 1:36:00 PM

Karin Warren

As a Minneapolis firefighter, Karin Warren’s father appreciated what it meant to work in public service. So when it came time for Warren to begin her own career, he encouraged her to think about finding a place for herself in local government. In 1984, she found it at the Metropolitan Transit Commission, which would later become Metro Transit.

When she applied, Warren had her choice of two jobs – one in Human Resources, and another in the Revenue Department. Attracted by a slightly higher wage, she chose the Revenue Department and began her career compiling ridership data which, at the time, was recorded manually. A year later, she moved to the Payroll Department where she helped assemble payroll information for bus operators. After that, she moved to the Convenience Fares Department, now called Sales Operations. She spent several years managing relationships with vendors who sold bus passes, a role she found particularly rewarding.

Warren returned to the Revenue Department to be a balancing clerk, ensuring that money collected from fareboxes matched reports of what was taken in. If the collection was off by more than $100, it was up to her to find out where it went. The work, she said, kept her fingers moving most of the day. “I was really bad at math in school, but that’s what calculators are for,” Warren said. “If I didn’t have a calculator I’d be hurting.” Toward the end of her career, Warren took on what would become her favorite job yet – making thousands of payments for fuel, parts and anything else that had to do with inventory.

As she approached her retirement, Warren said she was grateful to have followed her father’s advice. In addition to job stability, good benefits and a comfortable retirement, Warren developed strong bonds with her co-workers, many of whom spent decades working alongside her. “I always think to myself, ‘I’m so glad my dad pushed me to do this,’ because it’s really made me who I am,” Warren said. “I thank my lucky starts – it’s been a great journey.”

Warren retired in March 2019 with more than 34 years of service. In retirement, she looked forward to spending more time with her family and dogs, and to devote more attention to volunteering, fishing, gardening and cooking.

2019

Frank Hernandez 

Mechanic-Technician, East Metro
Posted by Christina McHenry | Tuesday, February 12, 2019 3:43:00 PM

Frank Hernandez

After completing his service with the U.S. Marine Corps, Frank Hernandez found himself back in, St. Paul, his hometown, driving a cab. When a friend suggested he apply at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission, he hoped he could continue driving. But he found a job in bus maintenance instead, beginning as a cleaner at the old Snelling Garage.

Not that he wasn’t prepared for that kind of work. While in the military, Hernandez repaired and maintained jeeps, large trucks and other heavy equipment. His abilities helped him quickly move into technician roles at Snelling, the Overhaul Base, South and East Metro, where he spent the final 18 years of his career. Over time, Hernandez became a confident and efficient technician, often finishing his assignments well before he was expected to do so. 

At East Metro, Hernandez focused on inspections – “finding problems for other people to fix,” as he described the role – and spent more than a decade as a bay service technician. As a bay service technician, Hernandez spent his mornings troubleshooting buses that wouldn’t start, replacing headlight or taillight bulbs and making other quick fixes as operators prepared to leave the garage each morning.

While his career was devoted to bus maintenance, Hernandez still found plenty of opportunities to get behind the wheel. At Metro Transit, he regularly signed up to drive before or after his shift, covering work that couldn’t be assigned to an operator. He also helped deliver new transit buses made in Minnesota, driving them across the country to their final destinations.

Hernandez retired in February 2019 with more than 45 years of service. After retiring from Metro Transit, Hernandez said he planned to continue driving buses between the Twin Cities and the Mystic Lake Casino.

2019

Terry Whitson, #304 

Operator-Heywood
Posted by Christina McHenry | Friday, January 11, 2019 2:07:00 PM

Terry Whitson

Terry Whitson thought he’d make a career as an industrial welder. But when the company he was working for moved out of state, he found himself looking for a new line of work. His then father-in-law was working as a bus operator and suggested he try driving for a living. “It was the last thing that I ever would have thought of,” Whitson said. Even so, he applied and started shortly thereafter as a part-time operator at what was then called the Shingle Creek Garage. Whitson would ultimately spend almost 34 years as a bus operator.

Whitson remembers being pretty nervous as he started out on his new path. But he liked the challenge, the variety and the clean uniforms. So he stuck with it. After a few years at Shingle Creek (now the Martin J. Ruter Garage), he became a full-time operator and moved to the old Snelling Garage, where he found himself in unfamiliar territory. “I didn’t know St. Paul at all so it was kind of a crazy time,” he said. Before long, though, he was back in the comfortable environs of Minneapolis. From his home in North Minneapolis, Whitson could take the bus, walk, bike or occasionally even hitchhike to work. Working at Heywood was more than convenient, though. At the garage, Whitson found himself surrounded by friends and family. “I was really surprised how many people worked here that I already knew,” he said.

As a longtime extraboard operator, Whitson experienced a lot of different routes. But for nearly a decade he drove Route 16 between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Whitson said he enjoyed the route because it was “straight ahead, not a lot of hills and few turns.” He also spent many years on Route 7.

Shortly before retiring, Whitson earned a five-year Master Operator award for his attendance, customer service and safe driving skills. He also retired with a 29-year safe driving record and as a top finisher in several Bus Roadeos. The accomplishments were all the more meaningful because they followed a several-year period in which Whitson admittedly took the job less seriously than he should have. With support from his managers, peers and family, he charted a new path. Over time, he became something of a role model himself, passing along advice and answering questions from newer operators.

In retirement, Whitson planned to spend more time fishing, skiing and boating on the Mississippi River. “I call it my great escape,” he said. “Out there, it’s just water, wildlife and blue skies.”

2019

Rick Rolfson 

Lead Stockkeeper
Posted by Christina McHenry | Wednesday, January 02, 2019 1:55:00 PM

Rick Rolfson

When American Hoist closed its St. Paul operation, Rick Rolfson found himself looking for a new job. This time, he thought, it should be one that didn’t come with the risk of being laid off. So he applied for a job at Metro Transit, a company he believed would offer the kind of stability he was looking for. A year later, he was asked to work in what was then known as the Storage Department. It was the start of a career that would eventually span nearly 32 years and bring him to nearly every Metro Transit work site.

When Rolfson began, he was asked to help the department transition from a loosely-organized, paper-based inventory system to a computer program (TxBase) that would make it easier to organize and track the thousands of parts Metro Transit needed to have on hand. “I didn’t really want to do it but the older guys didn’t want to either so I was kind of forced into it,” he said. Despite his initial hesitancy, Rolfson proved more than up to the task. He created a step-by-step guidebook and taught others how to use the system throughout his career. The initiative he showed early on would become one of the hallmarks of Rolfson’s career.

Rolfson was the first stockkeeper to work a second shift (at the Martin J. Ruter Garage) and he helped setup materials areas at several locations, including the newly-remodeled Nicollet Garage Radioshop and each of the light rail facilities. Toward the end of his career, he also led efforts to keep better track of more parts, assigning serial numbers that could be used to make effective warranty claims. “A lot of my job has been filling holes – figuring out the need and appeasing it,” Rolfson said.

Throughout his career, Rolfson was also looked at as a trusted and knowledgeable resource who saw a direct connection between his work and the company’s success. “Goal number one has always been to have vehicles there when people need them to be, no excuses,” he said. The dedication he showed came from enjoying the work, and from recognizing he’d found the peace of mind he’d been seeking when he applied. “I never lost the idea of how good a job this was,” he said. 

In retirement, Rolfson planned to work on his home, travel and spend more time fishing, hunting and riding his motorcycle.

2018

Joe Koran 

Licensed Maintenance Electrician, #5232
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, September 06, 2018 1:26:00 PM

John Koran

Shortly after finishing vocational school, Joe Koran took a drafting job with the Metropolitan Transit Commission and was told he had at least six years’ worth of work in front of him. Six months later, Koran had accomplished everything on his to-do list. But he wasn’t interested in finding a new employer – especially if it meant he’d have to keep wearing a suit and tie. The solution: turn his interest in working on cars into a new career in Bus Maintenance. Koran would spend the next 40 years as a technician, dividing his time between bus and building maintenance. 

Koran’s first stop in Bus Maintenance was at the old Northside Garage, where he worked overnights as a cleaner. He spent time as a cleaner and fueler at the Nicollet, Ruter and old Snelling garages, and was among the first technicians to move to the new Overhaul Base. At the Overhaul Base, Koran worked in the body shop and rotated through several other assignments, becoming an increasingly well-rounded and skilled technician who could fix not just buses but all sorts of equipment. 

To keep himself interested, Koran kept an eye out for new opportunities. The desire to try new things led Koran to move into building maintenance, where he became involved in everything from creating custom office furniture to striping parking spaces. While in building maintenance, Koran earned his electrician’s license as Metro Transit’s first apprentice electrician. As an electrician, he updated lighting fixtures, rewired buildings and took on a host of other responsibilities that brought him to customer and support facilities across the region. He also made a point of anticipating repair needs and addressing them before being asked. “I’d be driving down the street, see a shelter with a broken light or conduit, and make sure to get it fixed,” he said. “You really had to be a self-starter – that’s the biggest part of this job.”

Throughout his career, Koran enjoyed spending time with and getting to know his co-workers, playing for several years on work-based softball teams and riding with members of the Motorcycle Touring Club (MTC). Looking back on his career, Koran said those experiences and the ability to move around stand out as the best parts of his time at Metro Transit. “I met a lot of people and was able to change jobs almost at will,” he said. “That really helped me avoid the ho-hum some people get after a while in a job.”

Koran retired in September 2018 with 40 years of service. In retirement, he planned to spend more time on carpentry projects, boating and fishing and biking. 

2018

Neal Camper 

Transit Control Center Supervisor
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, August 30, 2018 3:40:00 PM

Neal Camper

Neal Camper’s father-in-law worked as a Twin City Lines operator. So when Camper found himself looking for work, he was encouraged to check the Sunday newspaper to see if the Metropolitan Transit Commission was hiring. As it happens, they were. He put on a suit and tie, interviewed and was hired. And so began a career in transit that would ultimately last more than 34 years.

Camper’s first stop was at the Martin J. Ruter Garage, where he was among the first part-time bus operators. Within months, he had the opportunity to go full time. Over his 13 years as an operator, Camper worked out of the South, Nicollet and old Snelling garages. Working the extraboard, he came to learn nearly every route in the system. “That was something I was really proud of because I could answer any question customers had,” he said. Camper was also proud of the unique role he played in Minneapolis’ annual Aquatennial festivities. For several years, he was hand-picked to transport the Aquatennial queen candidates in a specially-decorated bus.

As he gained experience, Camper also became a role model for newer operators. He served as a part-time instructor and was among Metro Transit’s first group of full-time instructors. Camper spent seven years in this role, working with his peers to introduce new operators to the position. He was also among a small group who could test new hires seeking Commercial Drivers Licenses.

In 2004, as Metro Transit was opening its first light rail line, Camper saw another opportunity to try something different. He was among the first to operate Blue Line trains, putting in 160 hours of testing, as he prepared to become a Rail Supervisor. After a year in the Rail Control Center, he moved to the Transit Control Center (TCC) where he would spend the final 14 years of his career.

As a TCC supervisor, Camper spent his days problem-solving, assisting bus operators who called in looking for help, dispatching police officers and doing whatever else was needed to keep service running smoothly. Camper liked that his days always brought new challenges and appreciated working alongside people who supported one another. “I was always blown away by the way people would teach me things,” he said. “I learned something new ever day.” One of his most memorable experience was the day the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. Working as a police dispatcher, Camper had to make sure all of Metro Transit’s police officers and buses were accounted for and help establish a command center where response efforts could be coordinated. “I’m sitting there doing my regular routine and then to get that call – it was an interesting day for sure,” Camper said.

Camper retired in September 2018 with plans to relocate to Tucson, Ariz., where he hoped to spend time volunteering. A father of two, Camper also looked forward to spending time with friend and family and traveling.


2018

Brad Cummings 

Rail Safety Officer
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, August 16, 2018 4:09:00 PM

Brad cummings

In 1985, Brad Cummings was about to graduate from St. Thomas, where he was studying social work. Working part-time jobs and facing a difficult job market, he came to a realization. “I said, ‘I don’t mind driving to work, it’s what happens after I get there that I don’t like. So maybe I should find a job as a driver.’” And that’s what he did. Cummings, who had some experience as a school bus driver, applied for a job in transit. Shortly after, he began his career as a part-time bus operator at the old Snelling Garage, the first of several stops in a career that ultimately lasted more than 33 years.

When he began as an operator, Cummings was asked to make a two-year commitment. At the time, he didn’t think he’d stay much longer than that. Instead, he spent the next 18 years as an operator, working at every garage except for Ruter. He enjoyed the work, but found himself entertaining thoughts about finding a different line of work. “When I quit having funny stories to tell, that was a sign,” he said.

Those thoughts came at the same time Metro Transit was preparing to start up the state’s first light rail service. He set his sights on a new goal of becoming a train operator and was among the first to take on that challenge when the Blue Line opened in 2004. “It was fun, but I was nervous,” Cummings remembered. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’” Cummings confidence quickly grew, though, leading to an 18-month stint as a train operator.

One of the reasons Cummings was attracted to light rail was the belief that, because it was new, he would have access to more opportunity. And he was right. After serving as a train operator, he applied for a position as a rail transit supervisor. He held that position for nearly three years, working in the Rail Control Center, often alone, and managing overnight construction activities along the corridor. That role led to yet another opportunity, as one of Metro Transit’s first rail safety officers.

Because this was a relatively new position, Cummings wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But he was interested in writing and saw a chance to help craft reports, plans and other documents. One of his first big projects was to help prepare emergency response plans for the Northstar Commuter Rail Line when it opened in 2009. Cummings also coordinated training exercises with emergency responders and helped develop a training program that was presented to thousands of contractors who worked on rail corridors.

Cummings said he was happy to have made a career in transit, despite growing up in rural Minnesota and studying an unrelated field. “It was a complete surprise,” he said. “There was nothing in my life to indicate this is what I’d do. But it was a good place to work and I really enjoyed the people.” In retirement, Cummings planned to spend more time traveling and to move to Mazatlán, Mexico, where he and his wife have long vacationed.

2018

Marilyn Hood 

Safety Specialist
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, July 12, 2018 1:29:00 PM

Marilyn Hood

Marilyn Hood thought she’d dedicate her career to social work. And after graduating from Bethel College, she started down that path, working at a center that supported women who’d been raped or sexually assaulted. But with two children and dreams of buying a home, a job ad for what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission caught her attention. As a bus operator, she could make double what she was earning as a counselor. Hood applied, began as a part-time operator and, within two years, went full-time. Hood would go on to build a 32-year career in transit. But while she found herself in an unexpected line of work, her passion for helping people never faded. 

Hood’s time at Metro Transit is roughly divided into thirds. For the first part of her career, she served as an operator at the Shingle Creek and Heywood garages. As an operator, she enjoyed having regular routes where she could get to know her customers. “It was the human contact that was really important to me,” she said. When she told a manager that she was considering a move to teaching, she was persuaded to instead join the agency’s nascent team of instructors, who would be charged with helping new operators get their start. As one of Metro Transit’s first full-time instructors, Hood wasn’t just teaching but also writing the first lesson plans that would guide her and her peers work. It was a good fit, too. “I totally enjoyed teaching,” she said. “The creativity, working with people from around the world and figuring out what makes them tick. It was really intellectually stimulating.” As a self-described introvert, she also learned how to stand in front of a group without revealing any apprehension. “I imagined myself as Meryl Streep, which allowed me to feel like I could be up there and be competent, confident and able to make a difference,” she said.  

A decade after becoming an instructor, Hood found herself at a retirement for a safety specialist who described their job as the best they’d ever had. Intrigued, she applied and got the job. As a safety specialist at Heywood Garage, Hood investigated accidents, monitored on-street performance, rode along with bus operators, provided input on new bus purchases and was involved in arbitration and legal proceedings. As she did as an instructor, she also helped break new ground, introducing classes built around videos from real accidents and other course materials. As a safety specialist, Hood especially liked having the chance to support operators who were involved in a collision but still showed promise. “I always wanted to be the advocate and this was one way to do that,” she said. During her time in safety, Hood also helped plan and organize the agency’s annual Bus Roadeo,   

Hood retired in July 2018 with plans to move to Texas, her home state, and commit herself to humanitarian work. “I feel really fortunate to have worked in an organization that offers opportunity, diversity and support,” she said.  

2018

Tom O’Brien, #5450 

Mechanic-Technician
Posted by Christina McHenry | Monday, July 09, 2018 10:30:00 AM

Tom Obrien

Growing up, Tom O’Brien often worked on cars and joined his dad while he worked as a mechanic, crawling underneath vehicles to apply grease in areas he had an easier time reaching. The experiences developed an interest in vehicle maintenance that would eventually lead him to attend vocational school and to apply for a job at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission. “I wanted to work on biggest stuff and buses are pretty big,” he said. In late 1985, O’Brien began as a skilled helper at the old Snelling Garage, the start of what would become a nearly 33-year career.

O’Brien’s career in bus maintenance included time at nearly every garage and in positions as a skilled helper, cleaner, fueler and technician. After old Snelling closed, he moved to South where he spent over 12 years working the overnight shift. As a technician, he did a little bit of everything – powertrain maintenance, hoist repairs, tune-ups and inspections – gaining expertise along the way. He was particularly interested in the powertrain work, he said, because it allowed him to learn about new technologies that were appearing in the fleet.

The final four years of O’Brien’s career were spent at the Overhaul Base, where he worked in the Body Shop as a welder. Along with his fellow technicians, the job involved cutting steel for replacement bus panels and a host of other odd jobs, including fabricating custom parts requested by other departments. “There’s such a wide variety of stuff that comes through here, which keeps the job interesting,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien retired in July 2018, just two months shy of the day he began, 33 years earlier. Looking back, he said he was glad to have found a home at Metro Transit, where he made many friendships and enjoyed good benefits. In retirement, O’Brien said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren and bringing his RV and off-road Jeep to parts of the country he hasn’t yet explored.

 

2018

Jay Capistrant, #3168 

Passenger Sampling Clerk
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, June 07, 2018 10:33:00 AM

Working at a south Minneapolis auto shop, Jay Capistrant often visited with operators who came in to escape the cold during their breaks. The conversations sparked an interest in the job and, in 1974, led him to apply. He began his career at the old Northside Garage and later spent time at the Nicollet and old Snelling garages. As an extraboard operator, he drove a variety of routes. Capistrant enjoyed the job and was a skilled operator, with impressive showings in two Bus Rodeos. But after six years behind the wheel, he found himself seeking better hours and less stress. He applied for and got a new job as a revenue clerk, a move that would lead to a nearly four-decade career in Revenue Operations. “I loved driving the bus, but I’ll always be grateful I made that switch,” Capistrant said. 

Capistrant spent three years as a revenue clerk and spent another three years as a balancing clerk. At the time, operators manually recorded boardings on records known as trip sheets, which were then reviewed by clerks like Capistrant. Any irregularities discovered by clerks led to additional follow up. In 1986, Capistrant took on another new role, as a passenger sampling clerk, that would come to define his career. The job involved riding the bus or setting up somewhere along a route to count passengers, helping to develop ridership estimates. “I got to be out and about a lot, which was great except when it was 20 below,” Capistrant said. 

The role took on greater visibility when the METRO Blue Line opened in 2004. Eager to know how many people were riding the state’s first light rail line, Capistrant spent hours riding the train to provide some of the first estimates. “Everyone was starving for ridership numbers so the train really became home to me there for a while,” he said. “That’s when I started noticing I’d need a seat cushion.” The appetite for information eventually began to wane, and technology was introduced that automatically counted passengers. Capistrant continued to ride, though, verifying data and making observations that helped estimate ridership for large events. Most days, he spent as much as five hours riding the Blue Line, Green Line or a bus. While focused on the task at hand, the job allowed him to befriend regular customers and fellow employees and to observe the daily life that unfolded on the train. 

Near retirement, Capistrant said he was proud to have built a career at Metro Transit and amazed at the growth he’d witnessed during his 43 years of service. “When I started in 1974, this was just a bus company with a few old buses,” he said. “Now we have two light rail lines, millions of rides, we’ve helped the cities grow. I’m really proud to have been a part of that.” Capistrant’s career choice was also a fateful one: In 2002, he was introduced to a new co-worker, Mary Capistrant. He offered to help her with a carpentry project and she offered to make him dinner. Five years later, they were married.

In retirement, Capistrant planned to spend more time on a long-running family carpentry business, continue volunteering with Allina Health Hospice and restore a 1973 half-ton Chevy pick-up. 

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