Webster Highway Superintendent Joe Herbst retires
Herbst has worked for the town’s highway department for over 30 years
Webster, NY - Joe Herbst, Webster’s highly respected Town Highway Superintendent, is retiring. Herbst has been the highway superintendent since 2008, but he has worked for the highway department since 1988.
Going from part-time in 1988 to full-time in 1990, Herbst began his career in the highway department as a laborer. He then “climbed every rung of the ladder accordingly,” says Herbst.
Herbst became Highway Superintendent in August 2008.
“My objective was to get to 30 years with the town and see where I was at that point in my life,” said Herbst. “You can see where I made it to.”
Before working for the town’s highway department, Herbst was a builder by trade. He had his own company that built additions, decks, retaining walls, and patios. Some years later, Herbst went to work for Barone Homes, where he continued building.
“My true interest is building things,” said Herbst. “Even after I started with the highway, I have always maintained my company and still to this day continue outside my highway hours.”
Webster Online asked Herbst some questions about his time as superintendent and what his plans are for retirement.
What has been most rewarding for you as the Highway Superintendent?
Herbst: “I think the most rewarding part of the job for me is knowing that the highway as a united team has set the standards very high in the industry for the rest to set their bar to. It takes years to establish, and continual efforts to maintain that standard. I am confident it will continue going forward.”
Do you have any particularly humorous stories that you’ll never forget? (I’m sure there are plenty…)
Herbst: “I am a closet practical joker. The one thing that comes to mind was funny… to me. We always have three foremen. I have one foreman that was extremely meticulous, especially when it came to his vehicles. I got a call one summer day about pine trees creating a site distance issue at an intersection. I went to the site and trimmed the trees back to restore a safe intersection as I often do.
I got back to the highway with a large bunch of branches. Normally I would take them out back to the brush pile. Well on this particular day, opportunity presented itself. The other two foremen's trucks were parked right next to each other. I placed all the branches in the freshly cleaned truck of the one foreman, then I swept up all the pine needles and cast them in the truck bed of the other foreman's truck… making it look like they had been transferred from that truck.
I knew the meticulous foreman would investigate all three trucks first. I went inside and watched the fireworks from the window. We had a small audience watching. I pled the fifth. It was funny to watch it unfold.”
What “events” (snowstorms, wind storms, etc.) were the most challenging for you? Are there any particular ones that stand out?
Herbst: “The most challenging events are the ones we are not prepared for, the ones that blindside us on an idle Tuesday with no warning. I refer to the loss of fellow employees ahead of their retirement.
I remember Tom Malone and Ben Kunzer, both tragically to vehicle accidents. Then three of my comrades all to cancer, Ray Stollery, Joe Cannarozzo and Larry Smith. Larry and I started at the same time together and we were the same age. It hits home… I have their pictures in my office and when someone comes in to define their ‘bad day,’ I point to their pictures and say ‘NO, that's a bad day!’ That's the most challenging…
Of course, there are weather events that stand out as well. The most significant is the ice storm of 1991. That was incredible. That's a story in and of itself, and to live it and work it was an experience you cannot describe with a short blurb.
I remember very well the ice storm of 2003 and of course the windstorms of 2008 and 2017, along with the blizzards of ‘93 and ‘99. They all created memories and experiences that helped mold us to where we are today. I can tell you when calls started rolling in on the wind events and every detail of plowing the various routes and the struggles we faced, independently and as a whole.”
What are you most proud of in your work as Superintendent?
Herbst: “I believe what I am most proud of is the highway crew itself. No matter what the challenge, they are an extremely creative, ingenuitive and ambitious group that enjoy thinking ‘outside the box.’ It is a good mix of youth and veterans. The youth listen to the wisdom of experience of the veterans and the veterans lean on the techno savvy youngsters for their guidance. That says a lot about the environment and resilience of the department. They make me proud every day I get to say ‘I work for Webster Highway.’”
Is there someone lined up to be your successor?
Herbst: “As to my successor, it is tough to specify because it is a competitive position. This is a civil service-tested position. It is a lengthy test and typically only the top three candidates are available. I have been dividing up my assignments and administrative duties accordingly between my foremen, but it is still open until the test results are in.”
What advice do you have for the person who takes over for you?
Herbst: “My advice to whomever assumes my role would be to continue to pursue excellence and efficiency, but never lose sight that we are all human. Be kind, fair and equitable to all. Never compromise one's integrity or respect in pursuing this objective. If you apply these values, they will be returned to you in the same fashion!”
What’s next for you?
Herbst: “My next chapter in life is going to be extremely busy, at least for the first six months. I have acquired the land next to where my 8 siblings and our parents raised us all. I am going to build my retirement home on this parcel, doing almost all of it myself. I am hoping to be moving in around the end of July. Once the home is built, there will be a laundry list of work yet to be done, but then I will pursue taking on various remodel jobs once time allows.
My ultimate goal is to be enjoying tropical temps and waters from here on out during the winter months, after the holidays. I have a daughter that lives in Phenix, so winters may be split between there and the Florida Keys.”
Congratulations on your retirement, Joe! Enjoy those tropical temps… If anyone deserves it, it’s you!