Robert Michel dug ditches to install pipes along town roads when he was first hired as a Highway Department employee 35 years ago. He worked his way up to truck driver, machine operator and crew leader. Michel currently serves as a road inspector for the Public Works Department.
"It's not the same thing all the time. There's different challenges," Michel said of his job. "Every day you learn something new — even after 35 years."
On Tuesday morning, Michel was among 14 people honored in an Employee Recognition Ceremony organized by Human Resources Dir. Catherine Lombardi at Monroe Town Hall.
"This is an opportunity for us to recognize employees who have served here for a long time," Lombardi said. "It gives us an opportunity to learn about other departments and their accomplishments."
Lombardi also thanked the town's long-serving part-time employees, who are not recognized in the annual ceremony.
Prior to being elected as first selectman a few years ago, Steve Vavrek said, "I didn't realize how hard you work and the hours you guys put in."
Vavrek praised everyone who worked during the major storms that have been hitting the region and those who deal with the public, sometimes taking heat just for doing their jobs.
Employees were honored for serving 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 years.
Public Works Dir. Douglas Arndt introduced Michel to an audience of his peers gathered inside the Town Council Chambers.
Arndt said Michel is that one employee who can assess and solve a problem that only someone with 35-years experience can do.
"You are the one person in Monroe connecting all of the information and the dots," Arndt said. "You have been the key I needed in our department to move forward."
The Big 3-0
Monroe Police Lt. Rosalie Stuart served the town for 30 years. Capt. Michael Flick, who introduced Stuart, said she currently serves in the patrol division.
In 2008, Stuart graduated from the FBI Academy and Flick remembers her participation in the "Yellow Brick Road", a stringent physical agility test.
"Rose went in with 20 to 30 year-olds and came out with a yellow brick," Flick said.
Stuart was instrumental in the formation of a domestic violence team, a department outreach program, according to Flick.
Reaching 25 years served were Chris Caulfield of the Highway Department, police records keeper Cynthia Cheatham, Lt. Brian McCauley, Chief Building Official James Sandor and Sgt. Jay Torreso.
Torreso is a midnight sergeant and could not attend the ceremony, according to McCauley, who said a few words about him.
Torreso serves as a taser instructor and is an original member of the Regional Tactical Team that was established 10 years ago, said McCauley, who also praised Torreso for his involvement in fundraisers like Tip-A-Cop benefiting Special Olympics CT.
Land Use Dir. Scott Schatzlein introduced James Sandor.
"The word is change," Schatzlein said. "In a technical, detailed department a lot of thought and time is spent to keep up with change. Jim has kept up with that in a dedicated way."
Vavrek said Sandor handles storm damage and building permit applications for new facilities with expertise. "I never once received a complaint about this guy," Vavrek said. "He's well liked in the community."
Flick introduced McCauley, who he said started out as a patrolman, before serving as a DARE instructor, patrol sergeant and public information officer.
McCauley also works closely with the youth, heading up the internship programs for high school and college students and setting up Eagle Projects that allow Boy Scouts to benefit the community. He recently became an EMT and driver for the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service.
Whenever there is a major storm, McCauley's voice is the one residents hear in the Code Red recordings.
"Brian's an integral part of the community," Flick said. "He's been here a long time and I hope he stays another 25 years."
McCauley introduced Cynthia Cheatham. He said she has become the matron of the police family, adding Cheatham resolves issues with the courts and other departments and deals with the public every day.
"Cindy explains the paper flow system to new officers and you better not mess it up," McCauley said with a smile.
Arndt introduced Chris Caulfield.
Before coming to Monroe, Arndt said he first met Caulfield at the funeral of one of his employees. "I was struck by his compassion and friendship," Arndt said. "Outside of work, Chris has a passion for helping those in need."
Arndt said Caulfield is well respected and has worn a lot of hats in his 25 year-career in Public Works.
Police K-9 Officer Dennis Bradshaw and Sgt. Pete Howard received certificates for their 15-year tenures.
Howard was praised for involvement in the community that goes beyond his job at the Police Department, from the Torch Run and Sprint for Monroe to the Plunge at the Park coming up this Sunday.
Bradshaw is the department's senior K-9 officer with his "sidekick" Liberty. Prior to that he worked with a German shepherd named Justice. Bradshaw is a certified dog instructor, participates in police searches and in a program to locate Alzheimer's patients safely.
Vavrek introduced Library Director Margaret Borchers, who has now been in town for 10 years.
"She is so accomplished with all of the degrees and training," he said. "We're lucky to have her."
Edith Wheeler Memorial Library was packed when it was used as a warming center after massive power outages from Hurricane Sandy. Vavrek said, "It's become a mini-community during the storms." Turning to Borchers, he said, "Thank you very much for your service."
Officer Danielle Boucher, Richard Lasky, James Waite and Steve Wolf have now been with the town for five years.
Assessor Liz Duffy introduced fellow assessor Richard Lasky. She said he's dedicated, and does his job well "in a way that's not offensive, because a lot of times people don't want to see us."
When dealing with the public, Duffy said Lasky treats people like he would want to be treated.
Arndt said Jim Waite has been "very resourceful" and has "a lot of hidden talents that go outside his service to the town."
When Arndt was first hired by the town, he said he noticed the buckets and pails custodian Steve Wolf kept in the attic at town hall to use for the inevitable roof leaks whenever it rained.
"That started the appreciation of the things you do for town hall that keeps it ticking," Arndt said, thanking Wolf for his "diligence and commitment to making things happen."
Officer Danielle Boucher could not make the ceremony, but McCauley said she is a very professional officer who displays individual initiative and dedication to the department. Boucher works with basic training graduates, is a member of the Honor Guard and is active in community policing.
"I'm proud to work with Danielle," McCauley said. "She's an excellent officer and what you want to see when you call the police."