Rick Smith hasn’t taken a vacation in at least four years. Since Juneau’s police station was built in Lemon Creek in 2000, Smith has cared for it, from cleaning the carpeting to fixing leaks. For the past four years, Smith has been the only custodian on staff.
“I’m kind of protective of this building,” Smith said. “I knew that if I took off for a couple weeks, they’d have to get somebody in here at least on a temporary basis to take my place, and I didn’t want to see that.”
Now, the custodian is stepping away permanently, as he retired and worked his final day this past Thursday. It’s not easy, as he puts it, to “pull the plug” on his career, especially because he’s been taking care of the building since it was built.
Smith, who turned 66 in May, sat in his office — room 205 — this past Wednesday and thought back on his time with the department.
He originally came to Alaska in 1980 to work at the Greens Creek Mine, but suffered a few injuries and ended up going into janitorial work about 10 years later.
While working at a law office, Smith noticed exotic birds on one secretary’s desk. He commented on them, and then he and the secretary would end up leaving Post-It notes for each other to read. Three years later, the two of them were married, and they remain married to this day.
Part of the reason for his retirement, Smith said, is that his wife’s health is declining and he wants to be home with her more to help out.
Smith said he’ll miss working with the people at the Juneau Police Department, to whom he’s grown close over the years. He said the department’s key values of courage, integrity, respect and service are all very meaningful to him.
It’s been an enjoyable 18 years, he said, but it’s gotten increasingly challenging. He said he was one of two custodians until 2014, when the budget only allowed for one custodian. Public Safety Manager Erann Kalwara confirmed the switch to one custodian was for budgetary reasons.
Since then, he said, the job has been much more difficult, especially as he gets older.
“It’s more building than one person can handle,” Smith said, “but it’s what I have to do. When you’re faced with something like that, you just have to prioritize. If something needs done that you didn’t get to, you have to make sure you get to it the next day.”
That’s another reason he hasn’t taken any vacations in recent years, he said, because there’s simply too much to be done at the station.
He’s done it all, even though he admits he’s been slowing down in recent years. He still sees the building as his “baby,” he said, and is curious to see who the department hires next.
“I think I’m ready to do that, but it’s hard,” Smith said of stepping away. “I hope they find somebody good.”
Representing the city
Smith is one of three JPD employees who retired at the end of May. School Resource Officer Blain Hatch retired after 25 years with the department, and Evidence &Property Specialist Kelly Magee retired after 32 years with the department. JPD Kalwara said the chiefs have not made decisions about replacing the two positions.
JPD Chief Ed Mercer said Magee’s tenure is one of the longest that he knows of, and that she filled a vital position. In caring for evidence and ensuring that it stays safe for investigations and trials, Magee was very important, Mercer said.
“I would say it’s such a significant position in the organization,” Mercer said. “It preserves our integrity. She was certainly the right person to be put in that place to go out and do that job.”
Hatch’s retirement ceremony Friday drew a standing-room-only crowd to the police station. The ceremony took place 25 years to the day from when Hatch began his duty on June 1, 1993.
Hatch has been the School Resource Officer at the Juneau School District for most of the years from 2001 onward, serving as a liaison between the department and the school district, handling issues that happen in schools and helping run the DARE program.
During Hatch’s lengthy retirement ceremony, people including his twin brother Paul (who recently retired from JPD after serving for 22 years), their mother, friends, colleagues and even a couple children who went through the DARE program shared memories about Hatch.
Hatch spoke for a few minutes at the end, thanking numerous people and trying to share a bit of advice with younger officers.
“Always think of the impact that you make,” Hatch said. “A lot of times, your face represents the police department and the city.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.