Silas “Sy” Sharp never shied away from work.
After serving in the Korean War, he spent his days as a heavy equipment operator with the City of Minneapolis and his nights at the Minneapolis Athletic Club, full-time jobs that took 16 hours of his day even as he studied management at the University of Minnesota.
In 1963, on the advice of a club member who worked in transit, he took a job in bus maintenance at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission, or MTC. For 22 years, he held full-time jobs with both the city and MTC.
Sharp retired from the city after 30 years, and in early 2016 retired from Metro Transit with 52 years of service – the longest tenure in agency history.
“I didn’t get much sleep sometimes – I averaged about three hours of sleep a night, four maybe,” Sharp, 80, said in a recent interview. “I’m the type of guy, I just love working.”
At 28 years old, Sharp began his career as a cleaner sweeping buses at the old Northside Garage in Minneapolis. He later became what was known as a “hostler,” fueling and moving buses around the garage.
His strong work ethic and history as a Sgt. in the Army led him to be recruited as a garage foreman, the first of several management positions he held in bus maintenance. Sharp also worked as a foreman at the old Snelling Garage and as the maintenance manager at the Nicollet and Martin J. Ruter garages.
Sharp is particularly proud of his time at Nicollet. The garage was underperforming, and he was challenged to turn around.
Under Sharp’s leadership, the garage made significant improvements. At one point, it exceeded bus reliability goals, measured as the average miles between road calls, for nearly two straight years. The garage later became home to Metro Transit’s first hybrid buses.
“There were a lot of people here who said it couldn’t be done,” Sharp said. “I said, ‘There’s no such thing as can’t,’ because that’s what I was taught. That it can be done if you apply yourself. And Nicollet went from being one of the worst to the best. I was very proud of that.”
Sharp credits his upbringing – he grew up on a Texas farm with strict parents – for teaching him to hold high standards.
An ability to identify and leverage the talents of those around him and a commitment to recognizing staff when they did well also helped, Sharp said. (Hundreds of doughnuts were dispersed to staff throughout his career.)
Sharp was able to develop those relationships in part by making a point of being available to all his employees, arriving at work by 5 a.m. each morning and staying through mid-afternoon so he could see workers from all three shifts.
After devoting much of his life to work, Sharp said the decision to retire earlier this year was one of the most difficult he’s ever made. “To put your heart and soul into something for 52 years, then just quit doing it is very difficult,” he said.
Recently re-visiting Nicollet Garage, though, he seemed at peace with his decision, telling his former co-workers about his new pursuits, wishing them well in their own endeavors and inviting them to join him at an upcoming retirement celebration.
Months into his retirement, Sharp, is indeed settling into a new routine – sleeping in a few extra hours, working on his retirement home in Florida and spending more time with his family, including wife Mary, three daughters, two sons and 12 grandchildren.
“I’m happy I did it,” Sharp said as he reflected on his work life. “But I wouldn’t tell anybody else to do it because it’s a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work.”
> A unique career: 50 years in transit
> Sy Sharp reflects on 50 years of service [video]