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NORTH COUNTRY AT WORK: George Hare reflects on 30 years at the APA

July 12, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

(Editor's note: The New York State Adirondack Park Agency denied NCPR's request to interview Maintenance Supervisor C. George Hare during his last week on the job in April. Any media interviews for state agencies have to go through the public information officer. "You can interview him when he's retired," said APA spokesman Keith McKeever. This is a standard operating procedure for New York state agencies, one that silences thousands of state employees throughout the North Country. This story is a rare glimpse into the contemporary work life of a state employee.)

BLOOMINGDALE - Retirement ... check. It's off the to-do list.

For decades, New York State Adirondack Park Agency Maintenance Supervisor C. George Hare counted the days left until his retirement in May 2019.

Article Photos

Former state Adirondack Park Agency Maintenance Supervisor C. George Hare, left, works with APA staffer Milt Adams to put up the Native Species Butterfly House at the Paul Smiths VIC in June 2007.
(Photo by Andy Flynn — courtesy of the Adirondack Park Agency)

It was a goal - like a finish line - making it to his 30th anniversary.

"Even though I counted the days and the weeks and the months and the years, it wasn't that I was looking to get out of work or get away from it," he said. "I loved what I was doing. It was a challenge every day."

At the end of April, he took a month's vacation before his official retirement. Then reality hit.

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"Okay, so once you get to the finish line, then what?" Hare said. "I still am kind of floundering. I expected it to be this grand excitement of 'This is the last day. This is it. I'm all done work. And wow, I've got the rest of my life to look forward to.' And it didn't have as much appeal and polish on it as I thought it was going to."

Hare was hoping retirement would be like high school graduation. June 1981, Saranac Lake High School, standing in the hallway in his cap and gown. He was excited, giddy almost, thrilled to be going on to another chapter in his life. But retirement never blossomed to that same feeling.

"Maybe one of these days it will hit me," he said.

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Paul Smiths VIC

Before the APA opened its Visitor Interpretive Center at Paul Smiths in 1989, Hare decided to apply for a job in the maintenance department. He was working in construction at the time and had a family. It was time to buckle down and plan for the future,

"I thought if I'm going to make a living up here without literally freezing to death, or killing myself outside, that I needed to find something that paid well and preferably something with a retirement," he said.

Hare's first day as a general mechanic at the VIC was May 18, 1989, six days before the building opened. The general mechanic is to maintenance what a general practitioner is to medicine. He did everything, from carpentry, electrical and plumbing to mopping floors, automotive work and everything in between.

After nine years, he was promoted to maintenance supervisor.

The most challenging part of the job? Plowing in the winter.

"I don't know how many people have actually spent a winter out at Paul Smiths, but it is like the snow belt of the Tri-Lakes area," he said. "You know, when Saranac Lake gets 2 inches, Paul Smiths would get 4 or 6."

Those first couple of hours on the job after snow fell overnight were spent plowing, cleaning sidewalks and trying to make a safe entrance into the building for staff and visitors. Then he and his crew would clean the building and work on projects - trail maintenance, technology issues, fixing things, building things.

"Every day was different," Hare said. "If it snowed, you knew what you were doing right off the bat. But outside of that, it could be anything."

The maintenance department of any facility keeps things operating, keeps people safe. It's usually the least visible department, but it's always the first one employees go to when there's a problem.

"One of the difficulties of being a maintenance supervisor or general mechanic is you're on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Hare said. "So if something happens, somebody drives by the building and sees water running out the front door, you're the man they call. And it doesn't matter if it's 2 o'clock in the morning or on a Sunday or whatever. That's your ticket."

For most of its years as an APA facility, the VIC was open seven days a week. It's a tourist attraction, a 3,000-acre piece of property with a network of all-season trails. In the summer, the maintenance department was busy building and maintaining trails.

In the winter, time was spent grooming the trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

"What we would do is pack them down with the snowmobile," Hare said. "I had a box that I had built, a wooden box, to drag behind to kind of flatten things out. As the years went by, we got a little more money and bought a bigger snowmobile and built a track setter for the back of it."

After 21 years, the state of New York decided to close the VICs in Paul Smiths and Newcomb. After 2010, they would no longer be APA facilities. Instead, they were handed over to two colleges: Paul Smith's College and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The VICs continued operating, but some state employees lost their jobs.

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APA HQ

For most of 2010, Hare and his co-workers didn't know whether they would be able to successfully transfer to the APA headquarters in Ray Brook. Some did, and some didn't.

"The transition was difficult," he said. "When somebody comes in and says, 'Well, we're closing the building. Here's 10 staff. You're all done,' Well, you're all done unless you had a previous title and there's bumping that can go on. Or a title that you might be qualified for, not necessarily the title that you have but a title that you're qualified for, and then you might be given the opportunity and move into that title and test for it later."

Hare's promotion from general mechanic to maintenance supervisor at the VIC served him well during the transition. He was able to keep his job, but because of seniority, another employee in the maintenance department lost his job.

"So, unfortunately, I had to bump somebody that had that title in order to keep my job," he said. "And it meant a cut in pay, a different workplace, but I was still employed and still headed toward retirement."

After Paul Smith's College took over the VIC in 2011, it was time for Hare to adapt to a new building, a new routine, new co-workers.

"I went from 3,000 acres to maintain and an 18,000-square-foot building to a 27,000-square-foot building and 4 acres," he said. "I had to learn what made it tick. And when you have 50-something staff that you have to keep safe and warm and dry or cool in the summer, you do what needs to be done and get the work done."

He still had to plow the parking lot, clean, fix and build things. His last major project was the renovation of the APA staff kitchen. But he didn't have to maintain a trail system. And the new building was only open five days a week, not seven. He wasn't spending time in the outdoors like he preferred, but he still had a job, at least for another nine years.

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Retirement

Looking back at his career, Hare said he's most proud of one project: the Paul Smiths VIC's Native Species Butterfly House, which is dedicated to the volunteer who conceived of the project in the early 1990s, Breck Chapin. An anonymous donor put up the money for construction.

"Breck and I sat down and started figuring out how to just, now that we have the idea and some money, how do you build a Butterfly House? We took a pole-type Quonset Hut type structure that was used for greenhouses and purchased one and bought a netting to go over it. And the rest was history."

Every spring, Hare and the VIC staff and volunteers put up the Butterfly House net, cleaned things and got the butterfly garden ready so visitors could watch it come to life all summer.

"And then in the fall, pull the net off, let the Monarchs and all the other butterflies go and pack it up for the winter," he said. "And so it was something to look forward to every year."

Now Hare's job is to create new things to look forward to while he tries to figure out how to live a retired lifestyle.

"I step out the back of the house, do a couple of doughnuts and say, 'OK, now what?'" he said. "But, you know, I'm still getting up at 5:30 in the morning, just get up and go. Now I get to do whatever I want to and not necessarily what I have to, within reason."

Hare's new HQ is the garage. It's a two-floor shop - automotive on the first floor and a wood shop on the second. It's his go-to spot. His man cave. He has the tools for almost any project.

"A whole array of hammers," he said. "You've heard the story, three-tooled mechanic, three different-sized hammers. Well, there you go."

His pet project - the one that will keep him going through the next winter - is the restoration of a 1951 Willys Jeep. He's currently rebuilding the Jeep's L-head engine.

"I had a 1947 CJ-2A, which actually had the same engine in it. So I'm kind of re-living my childhood here, my teenage years."

Hare's parents grew up in Lake Placid, but he grew up around the world. Born in 1962 in Plattsburgh, his father was in the U.S. Air Force. They spent the next 13 years traveling the globe, but they eventually settled down in Saranac Lake. Hare got the bug to fix things when he was young at those various air force bases, like Guam and Zaragoza, Spain.

"The mechanical end of it, it's I guess something that you're born with or you're not," he said. "I once tore my little sister's doll apart, the little talking pull cord doll. I pulled it all apart to see what made it work, and I never really put it back together. So I still hear about that."

It's that same curiosity that will keep Hare busy in retirement. And he has no shortage of projects. Just look at the honey-do list on his refrigerator.

"My wife is never one to try to direct me, but I think what she was trying to do was give me some goals because I've reached the ultimate goal," he said.

Trim maple trees ... check. Taxes ... check. GATE! ... check. There's still plenty on the list: sheet rock, stairs, rip up carpet, etc. At 56 years old, Hare has plenty of time to finish those projects, and they'll go hand-in-hand with his biggest goal - driving the 1951 Willys Jeep down the highway in the spring of 2020.

"This is kind of like the dessert," he said of the Jeep. "I get a project done, check it off on the refrigerator and then come out here and work on the motor."

Keeping the list attached to the refrigerator is a magnet that's fitting for people still in the workforce or those in retirement.

"Home is where your story begins."

Hare's story begins in Bloomingdale, in his 19th century house and the garage he built from spruce trees damaged during the Ice Storm of 1998, but we don't know where it ends. All we know is - some day - his story will include chapters such as "clean chicken coop" and "rip up carpet."

NCPR interview ... check.

 
 

 

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