CADILLAC — For more than 30 years, Alan Cooper has worked at the Wexford County Road Commission and for the past 24 years he served as its manager.
On Friday, Cooper will work his final shift. The 63-year-old is retiring and beginning Monday current Wexford County Road Commission Engineer Karl Hanson will also take on the responsibilities of the manager.
Cooper said he had planned on retiring last year as he was eligible to do so, but with his contract expiring on March 1, he opted to stay on until that date. He said that decision was made about a year ago, but it wasn’t until the last few months that Cooper started talking about it.
“I made the decision for real in December. We have been transitioning and expecting Karl (Hanson) to get the position,‘ he said.
Even if a new contract was offered to Cooper, he said he would have only worked until June, which is his anniversary date with the road commission.
The Clare native said before starting at the road commission in June 1988, he worked at several other places for roughly 10 years before that. When he graduated from high school, Cooper said he attended a technical school. He was studying electronics at the Grand Rapids school, but it didn’t take long, no more than six months, for him to realize he didn’t like it, both the school and Grand Rapids.
Eventually, an opportunity to work at a local gravel company in the Clare/Mount Pleasant area presented itself. He worked at that company for nine years before he went to another gravel company where he was a heavy equipment operator. He stayed there for one year before he got hired in at the road commission.
“I got laid off in the winter from Fisher (Gravel and Sand) and applied for the road commission in 1987. I started working and got the job in June 1988,‘ he said. “I was a truck driver and I did that for seven years.‘
Cooper eventually became the assistant superintendent and he was in that position for 1.5 years before the superintendent was let go. Cooper took on those duties for roughly three months before the manager also was let go.
In 1997, Cooper said four or five candidates were interviewed for the job. Instead of hiring someone from that pool, he said the job was offered to him.
“They offered me the job. I didn’t put in for it. They offered it to me,‘ he said. “They came to me after interviewing the other candidates and out of the blue, they offered me the job. I took it and have been the manager for 24 years.‘
Cooper recalled when he started working for the road commission in the late 1980s workers did more manual/hand labor. This included removing beaver dams, tree trimming along the roads, picking up dead deer along the roads and park maintenance at Michigan Department of Transportation roadside parks/rest areas. He also remembered doing a fair amount of blading dirt/gravel roads.
He said he didn’t care what he was doing and enjoyed the change. One day he was hauling gravel while the next he was loading it.
When it comes to the biggest change during his time, Cooper said the size of the equipment and, in particular, the trucks is the first thing that comes to mind. He said when he started, the road commission had two tandem trucks with 250 horsepower and now all the trucks are tandem, one axle in the front and a double axle in the back, and have 500 to 600 horsepower.
In general, Cooper said all the trucks and equipment are bigger. He also said the road commission does many cooperative projects with other agencies such as the forest service and the contract with MDOT has allowed the road commission to keep its truck fleet up-to-date.
When it comes to the future, Hanson said he’s pretty sure he will be calling Cooper to see how an issue was addressed in the past. He said a lot of what’s done at the road commission has a history and a lot of institutional knowledge is retiring with Cooper on Friday.
“Thank you for 32-plus years of service doing a job that is often thankless. Now it is the time to enjoy retirement and perhaps take that dream trip to tour the famous castles in Europe,‘ Hanson said.
Cooper said the German river cruise that Hanson is referencing is probably the No. 1 thing he wants to do once retired. He said projects around his house and the house his son recently bought also will be on the to-do list. He also wants to do more golfing and plans on spending more time with his grandchildren.
“I’ve always wanted to golf but never had the time. Work or kids always got in the way,‘ he said.