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Time to relax in the park


After 27 years, Park Maintenance Director John Rupert is retiring

It’s been a long time since John Rupert had what you might call a “lazy summer.”

For West Linn’s park maintenance supervisor, these are the busiest months of the year — when the clouds break and the grass dries just enough to bring swarms of patrons all over the city’s 600 acres of park land.

Rupert and his co-workers bounce from park to park, keeping everything as clean and orderly as possible, and before they know it, September rolls around once again.

It’s been that way for 27 years, and Rupert enjoyed it all the while. But after officially retiring, Rupert’s busy season will now become quite the opposite.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Twenty-seven years after he started working at the West Linn Parks and Recreation Department, John Rupert retired earlier this month.

“I like the summers up here,” Rupert said. “It’d be kind of nice to just have a lazy summer.”

Beyond that, Rupert simply felt like the time was right to make a change. The city offered an early attrition package, and with major park construction hitting a lull, the transition for his replacement would be rather straightforward.

“We started out building all the parks, and we’re just about built out now,” Rupert said. “So I feel like it’s probably a good time. I’ve got a very good crew, and so I think the parks department is going to be in real good hands after I leave.”

Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester said the department plans to promote from within to replace Rupert, while also hiring an additional entry level worker.

“We think that we’ve got at least a couple people on staff that we’ve been kind of mentoring and are capable of stepping in,” Worcester said.

Rupert’s replacement, whoever it may be, will have big shoes to fill. Though he jokes about being hired on April 1, 1986, and wondering “who the joke was on — me or the city,” Rupert’s unwavering work ethic and mentoring skills proved invaluable for a department that went from just three employees when he started to more than a dozen now during summer months.

“He led by example, which has been great — developing our seasonal staff and younger employees,” Worcester said. “He’s just been a good mentor. John’s kind of similar to me, in that there’s not a job or a task in the department that we haven’t done.”

Indeed, Worcester was the person who hired Rupert 27 years ago, and in the early going the two often worked side-by-side while building and maintaining parks like Sunburst, Skyline Ridge and Sahallie Illahee.

Eventually, the city began to hire contractors for the heavy labor, but Rupert and Worcester still installed new playground equipment and did most of their own planting at the gardens. Through it all, Rupert could only hope that their efforts did not go unnoticed.

“I appreciate the opportunity I’ve had here,” Rupert said. “Mr. Worcester has been very good to us, and I want to make sure people know what they’ve got there.”

Though he grew up wanting to be a history teacher, Rupert discovered an entirely different passion when he was 21 and took a landscaping job. There was a sensation of accomplishment when the lawn was completed, and the physical evidence was right there in front of him.

“You could actually see something,” Rupert said. “You were making something, creating something. And you got a pretty immediate response, because the building (you were landscaping for) is right there.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Even in his park maintenance supervisor role, Rupert wasnt afraid to get his hands dirty.

Rupert stayed in the landscaping business for about 10 years before he was hired by the West Linn Parks Department. He began as a “utility 2” worker (there are three levels), then rode his skill set and work ethic up to the supervisor role.

All the while, he could enjoy that same satisfaction of building something, but on a much larger scale. True to his title, Rupert was in charge of all operations at the city’s parks — the turf and grounds had to be manicured, basketball and tennis courts built, restrooms cleaned.

The “jack of all trades” mentality was part of what Rupert liked about the job, but even more important was the mentoring role he took on when the department began hiring younger workers for summer jobs.

“We have a lot of kids come work with us during the summer, and it’s always nice to see how they progress,” Rupert said. “That’s probably more of a thrill for me now than actually creating something.”

Beyond this lazy summer, and a trip to Utah and Arizona in September, Rupert plans to work at least part time in another field. Though he’s not sure what that work will be yet, it certainly won’t have to do with parks, and he might return to the bartending role he occupied earlier in his career.

“You always wonder if it’s the right time (to retire), but I’m proud of what we built here,” Rupert said. “I’ve finished my run and it’s time to let everyone else have a chance to do their thing.”