Longtime Columbia employee will have salt storage facility named after him

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 10:49 p.m. CDT; updated 10:32 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 27, 2008
With his wife, Claudia, standing behind him, Walter Leroy Anderson shows off memorabilia collected during his 38 years working for the Department of Public Works. Columbia's first salt storage facility will be named after him.

COLUMBIA - It really wasn't surprising. Between the assortment of figurines in a living room wall cabinet and items like an antique butter churn in the corner of the dining room, there was little doubt.

"I'm a pack rat," he said, laughing. "I keep everything."

The scrapbook clinched it: scores of pages containing copies of memos, official letters and even handwritten notes. They were all addressed to Walter Leroy Anderson and they were all thanking him. Some were from individuals, while others were from businesses and even MU.

"He never sees a stranger," Claudia, his wife of 56 years, said. That seems entirely believable. Anderson - everyone calls him Leroy - worked 38 years for the Columbia Public Works Department.

To commemorate his years of service, the Columbia City Council has decided to name the new salt storage facility at 1101 Big Bear Blvd. after Anderson. He spent 28 of his years with the department as street superintendent and has long been pushing for a larger location to store Columbia's salt and calcium chloride.

Completed last August, the $1.2 million project boasts storage for 5,000 tons of salt, 10,000 tons of calcium chloride and a dual-pond system designed to separate salt from runoff at the site.

The Grissum Building, where salt was previously stockpiled, only held 500 tons. Once that was depleted, Anderson would have to scramble to ask the state or other municipalities to lend more salt.

Matters were even more difficult before the city lacked any official place to store salt. Dave Daly, who worked with Anderson for more than 20 years and is the current street superintendent, remembered his creative way of protecting the salt.

"When I first got there, we were burying salt in holes we dug in cinder piles," Daly said.

Anderson acknowledged it might not have been the best idea, but he needed to keep the salt from getting wet and solidifying.

Even with the new storage facility, the city has continued using a mix of salt and cinders to treat streets in the winter, an approach Anderson believes is the best solution. Besides being free and more environmentally friendly, the cinders provide better traction and their color absorbs more heat.

"It's ugly," Anderson said. "People in town don't want stuff tracked in and I understand it."

Anderson retired in 1996 with 3,500 hours of sick leave for which he will never be compensated. He worked six and seven day weeks without being paid overtime. He slept with a two-way radio by his bed - "just in case." Not even walking pneumonia could keep him from his job. He considers the elegant grandfather clock given to him by the city as a retirement gift payment enough.

"I felt that we all worked for the taxpayers," he said.

Service to the greater good has defined his life. At 20 years old he was drafted and served two years in the Korean War. He was a tank commander in Germany during World War II and served as a captain in the Columbia Police Reserves. Anderson said he would have become a state trooper in 1957 if he could have afforded to pay for his own uniform.

Even with a 70-acre cattle farm to maintain and four children to visit, he still cannot escape the mentality of his former position.

"He drives through town and sees potholes: ‘Why didn't they do this? What about that?'" Claudia said.

"He was always about the best services for the citizens," said Mary Ellen Lea, operations manager for the department. Lea recalled how Anderson would send a street truck over to assist any of the trash trucks experiencing difficulties with snow or ice; he was a believer in departmental collaboration.

The dedication ceremony for the Walter Leroy Anderson Salt Storage Facility is slated for late September or early October. Anderson looks forward to the event despite a recent stay in the hospital due to intestinal cancer.

He considers the dedication an honor and one of the most important chapters of his life.

"From the Model A to landing on the moon," he said, "I've seen a lot."


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mona brown August 27, 2008 | 7:25 a.m.

what a nice story. thanks mr. anderson.

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