John Huber

John Huber is the supervisor at the South Dakota Department of transportation in Yankton County. He started with the DOT in 1998 in Menno as a highway maintenance worker where he worked for a number of years. “I did the Military from ’91 to ’95, and after that I took some odd jobs, and this came along in Menno in ’98 so I jumped on it,” he said.

“I started as a bottom-level highway maintenance worker and I worked up three ranks, so I went from highway worker, to lead worker and now supervisor. I will have 20 years in November,” he explained.

John works in Yankton, but still lives in Menno with his wife, Michele, who is a sign language interpreter for the Yankton School District. They have two children, a boy, who just graduated high school, and a girl, who will be a high-school freshman in the fall.

In his spare time John likes hunting, fishing and camping, and volunteers at the Fire Department in Menno, “I’m sure it’s just like any other fireman you talk to. There’s challenges, there’s been dangerous situations, there’s been sad situations, there’s been happy situations.” He was an EMT in Menno, until he and Michele had the children, which left little time for the demands of being an EMT, so he let it go.

John held the lead worker position in Menno until four years ago, when then- Supervisor Larry Kirschenman retired. John was promoted to supervisor, a position that oversees the Yankton, Tyndall and Menno shops.

The shops manage upkeep of the state highways. When asked what exactly that involved, John smiled and pointed to a large poster on the wall with lots of tiny print and said, “We do a lot of activities. This is all our activities.”

He then pulled out a large, detailed map, again with a lot of tiny print, and said, “This is what’s called the Yankton area. There’s two supervisors, so I have Yankton, Tyndall and Menno, my co-partner has one in Beresford and Junction City. So we have the whole southeast corner of the state. I have about 550 miles of road.”

The job, as he described it, is pretty straightforward, “All the signs that are on the state highways, those are ours, the culverts are all ours, anything between the fences is our responsibility.” That includes the medians and the ditches.

Wintertime it’s snow removal, that is our primary goal, primary job on the state highways. That is probably our biggest thing in the winter,” he said.

“Summer we do a lot of mowing, spraying, patching holes, lots of road work.” Year round his department is responsible for keeping up with the litter, debris and road kill that wind up on the state highways.

Taking care of the roads involves a lot of project management, “I do all the planning, order a lot of the supplies, line up truck drivers, line up employees. Any maintenance I supervise, I set it all up and make sure we’ve got enough people to do the job,” he says, and so the job varies from day to day.

“And us, we do a lot of projects so you don’t get bored, you don’t do the same thing day after day, and you’re outside, so there’s pluses.”

But there is one big plus that stands out for John, “I like the people. The people are the big plus. I like the guys that I work with. (They) are really good, really friendly. A lot of them are good friends. I mean, that’s where it’s got to start.”

He added, “The people you work with make the job. They are what makes the day go by, if you’re friends it makes it easier. People make the job for me. That’s what I enjoy.”

As supervisor he works with employees and also with contractors to get the job done, “I have about ten full-time people under me, and then in the winter I get ten seasonal and reserve drivers that want to help out. So that is a challenge, trying to find people that want to get up at three o’clock in the morning and come plow snow.”

“Winters are pretty challenging. Not everybody can make it to work every day. I mean, you’ve got sick people, you’ve got people on vacation. Wintertime we have to have so many trucks that need loading. That is a challenge to get them all filled up. The more trucks, the better,” he explained.

There is the occasional complaint, said Huber, “Weeds in the ditch or my water doesn’t run the right way, or the culvert’s too small, or this or that. Nothing ever really big, just typical issues. Sometimes they come to me or sometimes they come to the boss, Rod Gall, he is the Yankton area engineer.”

John’s boss described how John is with those types of situations.

“He’s very good with people. … He’s always good with dealing with people outside the office, with individuals like farmers or anybody that comes into the office. He deals with them very well. He doesn’t get mad, he’s got a very level head and listens to them.”

Gall went on to describe how John is at work, “He’s always talking about his family, and things like that. (He) likes to do things with them, talks about camping with them and following his kids in sports. He tells us about those things, and he’s very open with us about his dealing with them. He’s a very sociable person and we like that.”

The team from work socializes outside the office fairly regularly, “We hang out, we go fishing, we have golfing events. It’s not just here at work, we’re friends out of work too. A very tight knit group.”

They are even close enough to joke about bad roads when they get together, “Say, who owns this stretch or road out here, you’ve gotta call them, this is terrible!”, he joked recalling just such an incident.

Even so, he says, there is inevitably conflict at work, and it’s tough.

“I don’t like conflict. I do my best to stay away from conflict and to keep everybody at bay, and at ease. I mean, there’s always going to be personal conflict, everybody’s got their own opinions, their own thoughts, their own ideas. We try to work through them, take the best one.”

In fact, he says, they have had serious conflicts, which he is not a big fan of, but working through the issues and trying to resolve them is important, “to keep the team together. That’s the ultimate goal. We are a team, and anything, or — everything, works better as a team, and if you’ve got people trying to disrupt the team, this is what we don’t want.”

New team members are brought in and placed in an onboarding program as a sort of welcome and orientation program in one. The new worker is paired with an experienced worker that can answer questions, but, John says that his door is always open, “If he’s got any questions, comments, complaints, good news, bad news, they can come to me any time. My door’s always open, phone’s on.”

His hope is that new workers will just become part of the family. “That’s how I think, that’s how I like to think. We are one big happy family most of the time. There’s always going to be conflict, but you work with people, listen to people a lot, I’m not a therapist, but I will do my best to interact to resolve issues and keep moving on.”

As far as the roads go, John concluded, “We are sitting pretty good. Our roads are in pretty decent shape around here right now.” With such a tight knit group working maintenance, it’s probably not an accident.