Joe Paul Crane could never catch his employees by surprise.
“Everyone would know he was coming because they’d hear his whistle at the job site,” said Otis Shields, who moved up the ranks of the Columbia Water and Light Department under Crane.
Although Crane died in 2003, the staff at the Water and Light Department hopes the City Council will allow them to commemorate his 39 years of service to the city by naming the new water distribution plant after him.
Crane grew up four miles south of Pierpont and lived in that area throughout his life. He began working for the Columbia Water and Light Department in 1957 as a pipe laborer. Many years and job titles later, Crane retired from his 11-year stint as water distribution superintendent in 1996.
As superintendent, Crane was responsible for installing and maintaining the city’s 500 miles of water mains as well as its 10,000 water main valves.
“Just off of memory, he remembered where all the valves were at,” Shields said.
He gained a reputation with contractors and employees for being “very serious about his job and trying to make everything go very smoothly,” his sister Kathryne Lee said.
Even outside the water utility, Crane had a reputation as a man who “would help anybody do anything,” his former neighbor and hunting partner Randy Hundell said.
“He was always 100 percent in everything he did, and he kept doing his job right up until we went to his retirement party,” Shields said.
The new water distribution building at 1514 Business Loop 70 E. is more modern and provides additional space for professional offices, along with a conference room and a mechanical shop for testing and rebuilding water meters. The new building cost $991,000. The department’s former facility was growing old and mainly served as a garage-style work space. The city tore down the garage section of that structure but kept the offices, which remain occupied by the Water and Light Department’s top administrators.