Growing up I was often told stories of my Grandfather. He was the son of an Irish immigrant, enjoyed poker and whiskey, a devout Catholic, faithful husband, and honored father by his children. My favorite story of him was of when he was in his late teens living in Pennsylvania. He had received a job as a coal miner, which at the time was probably the most likely job for anyone in that area with a strong back. I’ve never seen a “selfie” of him from back then, so I’m left to my imagination of what it must have been like. I imagine it being dark, very dirty, difficult to breathe, and in the background pick-axe pings in rhythm. I’m told my grandfather was a brute of a hard worker and seeing pictures of his muscular stature even in his later years makes this easy to believe.
Into his second week on the job he had received his first paycheck after working over a hundred hours for the week. I’m sure he had to be excited to have a “real” job, get his first adult-sized paycheck, and prove his worth to his girlfriend’s father (my great-grandfather). However, to his dismay this didn’t happen. When he opened his check, after working 102 hours the previous week it read $0.00. He actually owed $6.37. So apparently… he had to pay back the mining company for all their tools he used to mine their coal so they could sell it to make their profit. That was about all he needed to know to determine what his next move needed to be: quit! He knew he was never going to make it out of the poor mining town doing that job and he definitely knew he was never going to give his future wife the life she deserved. After quitting, he moved to Detroit, started working for General Motors and then eventually branched out to start his own company. Not knowing it at the time, my grandfather’s journey and the stories told of him has left a legacy that is revered to this day. One of struggle, hard work, dedication, and commitment.
Growing up, I thought the stories I heard about my grandfather were unique to our family. Now that I’m a middle-aged man and have worked with the Department of Public Works for the last 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to work with a group of men and women who regularly exemplify the same honorable traits that were passed down to me in my family stories. I work with a custodian who has raised three successful young men as a single mom. I work with men and women who have persevered early tragedy in their lives and have become positive leaders in their workplace. I work with veterans of the United States Armed Forces. I work with dedicated public servants who on a weekly basis leave their families behind to respond to a variety of emergencies, all in the name of pride, serving the City of Auburn Hills.
These men and women have tough jobs and work in challenging environments. From cleaning toilets to sewage stations, from wrenching on broken equipment to repairing buildings, from snow emergencies to water main breaks. Everything under the sun they touch and work on. Regardless of the day or night, holiday or not, frigid cold or blistering hot, they are there serving this great community.
I know one day when we are all old, our families will tell stories about what Grandma and Grandpa did for their families, what they sacrificed and why. These men and women are as blue collar as it gets and embody the phrase “salt of the earth.” So, after you read this, I encourage you to look around and take a moment to truly see these men and women who chose careers as public servants.
Tim Wisser, Facilities Crew Leader, Department of Public Works