Local man retires after 42 years of working for city


Rick Steward went as high in the ranks as he wanted to while working for the city of Seymour.

On Feb. 10, 1979, he started as an operator at the wastewater treatment plant.

He then spent some time working in the lab and helped in maintenance before entering management for the next 37 years.

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Just recently, after 42 years of service, he officially retired. The 66-year-old most recently served as assistant utility director, which is a step below the person who runs what’s now known as the Seymour Water Pollution Control facility on East County Road 525N on the city’s far west side.

Transitioning to management, he said he went from “hands-on to managing the hands that did the on.” As operators and foremen were hired, they looked to Steward to teach them everything they needed to know.

“I think I’ve been there and done every single thing that there has been to do in wastewater, and I’m a firm believer in if you say you’ve been there and done that, you better be able to prove that you’ve been able to do that,” Steward said. “I’ve started at the bottom and ended up at what I consider the top. The superintendent, I had to make their job easier, and I did — every single one of them.”

Steward said he was working for a private contractor when Gary Hukill, the wastewater treatment plant superintendent at the time, told him he needed someone to work weekends.

“I did, and the next thing I know, I’m getting ready to go out the door after 42 (years),” Steward said, smiling.

His father, Bob, had worked at the plant for a couple of years, but Rick didn’t have any experience in wastewater treatment, so he had a lot to learn.

He was willing to put in the time and effort to do just that, not only at the beginning but throughout his entire career.

“Once you get certified, you’ve got to have continuing education, and that never ends,” Steward said. “It has been educational through the whole thing — something new every day, something different every single day.”

He said the plant treats an average of 5.8 million gallons of wastewater per day, so it’s a big responsibility to ensure it’s done the right way.

“The only service we provide is when you flush (a toilet), it’s got to go down and somebody’s got to take care of it,” he said. “I have always been a firm believer that the 8,900 ratepayers in the city of Seymour, that’s who I work for, and I’ve always been the one over the years to make sure that the ratepayers get their money’s worth. I’m all about the ratepayers.”

Steward also liked passing on his knowledge to his co-workers.

“I’ve always told them, ‘If you have the knowledge, share it. That makes you more valuable,’ and it does because if you keep it inside and you think, ‘Well, I’m the only one that knows how to do that and nobody else does,’ that’s not getting anybody anywhere,” he said. “I’ve always been a firm believer ‘Learn it, pass it on and you can always move on to something else.’”

Having served as the facility manager and facility superintendent in the past, Steward said it has been neat to see the plant progress.

“In 1979, there was not a lot here, and now, this is it,” he said of the facility that has received three multimillion dollar upgrades during his tenure.

Being a part of that gives him a lot of pride.

“That’s where a lot of the understanding and the learning comes from is when you get to see an orbal oxidation ditch installed from the ground up, you know every single piece of the working,” Steward said. “It’s like putting together a clock. You get to see it all, and then you have a super understanding of it.”

Two years ago, Steward said he started pondering retirement. He had told the city’s mayor at the time, Craig Luedeman, he was going to stay through the end of his term. At the start of 2020, new mayor Matt Nicholson appointed a new utility director, Jarin Gladstein.

“I was in a tree stand hunting and (Nicholson) called me and said, ‘Can you hang around for a little bit?’” Steward said of being asked to stay to share his knowledge about the plant with Gladstein.

Steward committed to staying a year before recently retiring.

During a retirement party Feb. 19, Nicholson presented a plaque to Steward recognizing his 42 years of service, and he and his co-workers, other city employees, family and friends enjoyed lunch.

“I had the best job in the world,” Steward said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

His wife, Maryellen Steward, and one of his sons, Dustin Steward, were in attendance.

“He loved his job. It provided for us for years. He really did enjoy his job,” Maryellen said.

“That’s why he worked there so long,” said Dustin, who worked at the plant for a couple of years before moving to his current job at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. “I even asked him over I’d say the past five or 10 years, ‘You planning on working until you die?’ He’d say, ‘I just enjoy it.’ Here we are 42 years, and he finally gave it up.”

Doug Gregory has taken Rick’s title of assistant utility director. He has worked for the city for 21 years, including the past five at Water Pollution Control.

Gregory went from stormwater crew lead to stormwater foreman before taking on his new role, which he said will be a learning curve because there’s a lot to know about the everyday and emergency operations.

“I’ve got some pretty good-sized shoes to fill,” Gregory said. “He knows the facility very well. He has got a lot of knowledge … but he has always told me he’s only a phone call away. He will be retired, he will be drawing a check, but he said if I need anything, give him a holler.”

In retirement, Rick said he will continue his longtime hobbies of building turkey calls, woodworking, hunting, fishing and camping. He and Maryellen also plan to spend time on their motorcycle.

Maryellen said she has worked at Tammy Hiester-Stout’s dental office in Seymour for 20 years and plans to retire later this year.

“We haul the bike with our camper, and we plan to venture out West and East,” Maryellen said, noting they have done a lot of camping in the Midwest and want to branch out.

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