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Building and grounds manager retires after 27 years

Bruce Johnson has kept schools running

June 27, 2012

To hear Bruce Johnson tell it, his almost three decades as manager of the Wauwatosa School District's building and grounds almost didn't happen - by his choice.

"I was hired in 1985 by the new manager to be his assistant," Johnson said. "He didn't like it here and he left. I was offered the job and said I didn't want anything to do with it."

Advised by then Superintendent Maury Sullivan to think it over for a couple weeks and further urged by his father, Johnson finally gave in.

"I wound up staying 27-plus years," Johnson said. "It was a good run."

That run officially ends June 30 with Johnson's retirement.

Johnson looks at his career in the district as a team effort, crediting Gerry Krueger, coordinator of custodial services, for his support. Krueger also retires June 30 after more than 20 years.

"People need to understand that I did not run the department by myself," Johnson said. "Gerry was very much a co-manager. It takes an entire staff."

Diverse experiences

Between buildings and grounds, custodial and others, Johnson said the entire staff totals about 70.

It's easy to pick out the challenges, low points and high points from his career, he said.

"The challenge is to keep up with the needs of 14 buildings and those who need to use them," Johnson said. "We have one building that dates back to 1919, which is the north unit of Lincoln, and a lot of others built in the 1920s. Those buildings were built with a lot of construction talent but (we need to) make sure they are ready for current needs."

Electrical upgrades have been a priority, especially to support ever-changing technology.

Johnson said he never supervised construction of an entire school, but counts additions to McKinley, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools as among the largest projects he was part of.

Johnson's low point quickly comes to mind.

"The low point is pretty easy to pick out," he said. "It was Dec. 1, 1993, when Dale Breitlow was shot. We were friends, and I talked and visited with him just three hours prior. I still remember that vividly almost 20 years later."

Breitlow, an associate principal at West, was shot and killed in a school hallway by a former student.

Johnson's career highlights are many.

"Part of it is the day-to-day enthusiasm where people want to get involved with public schools," Johnson said. "I know that particularly in recent years the public sector has taken a few more licks than they used to, but we have so many hardworking and dedicated people who want to be involved."

The other highlight is knowing that his work supports a good cause.

"It's appreciated by people," Johnson said. "When you have facilities in order to support all the activities and programs, there is a tremendous amount of population that uses the school system. The staff recognizes and they understand their role. There is a meaning and a purpose even though at the same time it is a secondary role."

What's next

Retirement will have its rewards.

"I am looking forward to not having to drive my car," said Johnson, who is an avid bicyclist. He looks forward to a bike trip from Milwaukee to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to visit his dad on his 91st birthday.

There are some days, he estimates, that he put in 100 miles driving between buildings.

He also is looking forward to traveling with Chris, his wife who recently retired as a registered nurse, while visiting their three children.

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