By Brandi Makuski
The halls of the Stevens Point Water Dept. on Friday were lined with friends, family and city employees; the air was filled with an excitement not dissimilar to the last day of school, all in celebration of a longtime employee’s retirement.
Gary Kuplic’s last day with the water department was Jan. 6. About 50 people were in attendance for a lunch of Bill’s Pizza, soda and cake.
“He spent most of his 36 years on the water crew,” said Utilities Director Joel Lemke, adding Kuplic had been superintendent for the last seven of those years.
“He was foreman prior to that for a long time…but 36 years, that’s an accomplishment in itself,” Lemke said on Friday. “You know, everything we do — operation, maintenance, construction, pumping, metering, all of that — all those guys work for Gary.”
Kuplic started summer work for the water dept. in 1976. He liked the work and the people so much, he said, that he stayed with the job, working his way up from the bottom of the ladder.
“I got to see all the big water main leaks, all the broken sewer pipes, all the 3 o’clock in the morning, 40 below [zero] calls from the police department, but nothing really sticks out,” Kuplic said humbly, when asked about any major projects that stood out during his career. “I guess Well number 11 was a pretty big deal, but everything’s big at the time it happens. So long as we can get through it all safely and soundly.”
Among the biggest changes during his career, according to Kuplic, is how the department reads meters.
“We used to go to every house and read them manually; now we drive by in a truck,” he said. “We could read half the city in about a day. The technology’s really changed; we used to go around listening for leaks with a big geo-phone — those pucks you put in your ears — and now it all has to do with computers.”
Kuplic is well-liked among the crews, Lemke said, something Kuplic attributes to staying level-headed and treating the crews well.
“I was there, I started in a ditch,” Kuplic said. “Treating the crews like you’d want to be treated, that means a lot.”
Kuplic plans to spend his retirement fishing, and, “Good Lord willing, visiting every national park…and maybe get back into golf.”
“I’m just going to kick back and enjoy the ride,” he said. “Everything’s been pretty darn good, it’s been a good haul. There are good people here; I like it here. But it’s just time to go.”