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2018

Phyllis Wade-Myers, #273 

Operator-East Metro
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:35:00 PM

Phyllis Wade-Myers

After moving to the Twin Cities in 1974, Phyllis Wade-Myers spent a decade leading what was known as the “fluff department” at a commercial laundry service. Commuting on the bus, she was impressed and encouraged when she saw women behind the wheel, thinking to herself, “I could do that.” And so she did, building a reputation for warmly greeting everyone who stepped on board during her 33-year career.

While she entered with confidence, Wade-Myers was quickly struck by the realities of the job and found herself wondering, at least initially, if she was cut out for the work. During her early training, she remembers her palms sweating as she brought a group of fellow trainees back to the garage. The working conditions were a challenge, too: Buses lacked heating or cooling systems, so in the winter she bundled up and put a piece of cardboard on the floor to help shield her feet from the cold air. Her first years also meant working lots of nights and holidays, putting in 16-hour days while raising two children and keeping her job at the laundry service. “On Thanksgiving, I’d go home between shifts and baste the turkey,” she said. “You just did what you had to do and you didn’t really think about it.”

Wade-Myers got more comfortable, though, and decided to make transit a full-time pursuit when she realized the job would pay twice the $7 an hour she made at the laundry service, putting her dream of owning a home within reach. She was good at it, too: in her 33 years, she recorded no responsible accidents.

Her comfort on the job allowed her personality to shine at work. At the garage, she served as an informal mentor and motherly figure, befriending her peers and offering her thoughts on the job, personal health and spirituality to those who sought her opinion. On several occasions, customers also asked for her counsel, staying with her during breaks to discuss whatever issues they were facing in their lives. For her part, Wade-Myers, was especially fond of the elderly and special needs customers she got to know. And she built strong rapport with commuters going to work early in the morning on Route 67, a route she operated for many years. Wade-Myers embraced any chance she had to learn from people of different backgrounds, too, initiating cultural celebrations at the garage and learning some Spanish and American Sign Language so she could better communicate with customers. “Everyone has a story, and when you learn that you get an entirely different perspective,” she said.

Wade-Myers’ personality extended to her wardrobe as well. An amateur clothing designer, she disliked the operator uniforms and regularly customized the attire to her tastes. That included a regular rotation of colorful scarves and unique jewelry, as well as some one-of-a-kind headwear fashioned out of the standard-issued clothes made available to operators. “For a woman to wear the same thing every day was just beyond me,” she said.

Looking back at her career shortly before retirement, Wade-Myers said she was grateful to have found a home at Metro Transit but surprised at how long it lasted. “I thought I’d be here until I ran across something better, but I just never found anything better,” she said. In retirement, Wade-Myers said she planned to spend more time volunteering and counseling through her church, Minneapolis-based New Salem Missionary Baptist, sewing, fishing and with her family, including two children and nine grandchildren.

2018

John Gomez, #632 

Operator-East Metro
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:33:00 PM

John Gomez

After leaving the Army in 1978, John Gomez followed his brother-in-law to the University of Minnesota where he studied to become a teacher. After several years commuting to a proofreader job on the bus, he turned his attention to an entirely different line of work: driving a bus. Encouraged by several of his wife’s family members who worked in transit, Gomez applied and began working as a part-time operator at the old Snelling Garage in 1985. While he wasn’t quite sure it was the job he wanted, Gomez eventually settled in and spent 33 years as an operator and instructor.

Reflecting shortly after his retirement, Gomez said he considered his six years as an instructor to be among the greatest accomplishments of his career. “I think it goes back to my aspiration to be a teacher,” he said. “It was an opportunity to pass along knowledge. And, for me, it was also a great confidence builder.” Gomez had other reasons to be confident in his abilities, too, including a nearly-flawless safety record that he says came from having patience and an innate ability to foresee and prevent accidents on the road. “I was prepared to get into an accident every day, so I always thought to myself, ‘What can I do to prevent that from happening?’” he said.

Gomez also found success by learning to put the pressures of the job aside and creating a welcoming atmosphere by taking the time to greet customers as they boarded. “It makes their life easier, it makes your life easier and you gain a friend,” he said. Living in St. Paul, his career was spent almost entirely at old Snelling and later at East Metro; among his favorite routes was Route 84.

Sharing stories and building friendships with his fellow operators helped Gomez throughout his career, too. The camaraderie that developed over the years, he said, is what he’ll miss most in retirement. “We all suffer through the same things,” Gomez said. “It’s a special kind of bond that only drivers can share.”

In retirement, Gomez said he planned to spend more time with his family, including two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He also looked forward to exercising more, especially swimming and golf, and to volunteering with the Shriners and the group’s drum corp.

2018

Greg Lee, #5420 

Facilities Technician
Posted by Christina McHenry | Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:13:00 PM

Greg Lee

Greg Lee was mechanically inclined from a young age, regularly tinkering with small engines and getting under the hood while growing up in New Brighton. So when it came time to look for work, he set out to make a living in maintenance. At 22 years old, referred by a friend, he applied and was hired as a Cleaner at Nicollet Garage. It was the first of several jobs Lee would hold over the course of his nearly 39-year career at Metro Transit. “It was odd hours, but I needed the work and the people were friendly,” Lee said shortly before retirement. “And it was what I’d call a reasonable atmosphere – no one expected more of you than you could give.”

That doesn’t mean Lee had limited expectations for himself, however. Shortly after joining what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC), Lee bid up to a Helper position and began assisting Mechanic Technicians at the old Snelling Garage and, later, cleaning parts at the Overhaul Base. The on-the-job training helped him move into a Mechanic Technician role himself, performing tune-ups, repairing bulkheads, swapping engines, rebuilding transmissions and, for nearly a decade, doing rehab work in the Body Shop. “I was really fortunate to have people around me who had experience who could help me,” Lee said.

After three decades in Bus Maintenance, Lee moved to Facilities Maintenance where he continued to acquire new skills – hauling trailers, operating skid steers and, in one memorable case, using a jack hammer to remove a bench and setting it back into place with quick-drying concrete. Lee was among the first Facilities Maintenance employees assigned to the METRO Blue Line, helped install and repair countless customer waiting shelters and was regularly up before dawn to clear snow at transit facilities across the Twin Cities. Lee said he enjoyed being outdoors and the challenges that came with the constantly-changing work. “This is the kind of job where you have to think on your feet,” he said. “You have to go out and just figure out how to get the job done. You have to be a problem solver.” Whatever the assignment, Lee took pride in mastering the task and leaving a small footprint. “My motto’s always been if you can’t tell I did anything than I must’ve been doing my job,” he said.

Lee retired in January 2018, with nearly 39 years of service. In retirement, he planned to spend time camping and traveling, including an extended visit to Europe and a mission trip to Guatemala. Lee was joined at his retirement by wife Diane, son Mike and daughters Missy and Michelle.

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.

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