COLUMBIA — Bruce Martin didn't want to change.
He liked beginning his days early, almost always the first to arrive in city hall's fifth-floor office space. He would start the first pot of coffee, prepare for the day's tasks and chat with his coworkers as they trickled in. His boss took notice; people weren't supposed to enter the building so early.
"They used to get after me about it," Martin said, "but they finally quit doing that."
Lisa Frank said sharing coffee with Martin before the day accelerated used to be one of her regular morning comforts. But those days are over: Martin retired Friday after 33 years of working for the city, ending a career of constructing public parks and safeguarding people from dangerous buildings.
Paul Scolaro still remembers interviewing Martin for his first city job in the summer of 1983, when the Parks and Recreation Department was looking for heavy equipment operators. Scolaro set up a test for the applicants. They would have 20 minutes to dig a 10-foot trench.
"He got up on that back hoe, and he started it up, and he released the boom, and raised the pads in the machine, swung it around and dug a hole in about five minutes," Scolaro said.
Martin got the job, and it didn't take long for him to take on more specialized tasks. Instead of digging, he was raising buildings and bridges, such as the dock that stretches across Stephens Lake. Martin and three other men poured the concrete, set the footings and assembled the rest.
"There's not a park in Columbia that doesn't have (Martin and Scolaro's) impact," Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said.
As he got older, Martin started looking for less physically demanding work, and in 2009 he joined the Office of Neighborhood Services. He inspected thousands of rental properties, along with the most dilapidated buildings in the city.
Martin enjoyed how the job allowed him to meet new people, though the work could occasionally turn dangerous or bizarre. He's been shot at. Once, while inspecting a fairly clean rental home, he walked upstairs into the bedroom. On the bed he found a monkey, sitting with a box of Cheerios. It scampered under the bed when he tested the room's smoke alarm.
"The health department had been looking for that monkey," he said.
Leigh Kottwitz, Martin's boss until Friday, said he balanced the tough parts of the job well. She wasn't the only person to describe him as a "big teddy bear."
"He's tough when he needs to be, but he's also a very warm and friendly guy," she said.
Martin was known to keep a box of Twizzlers at his desk that he would share with coworkers. In his cubicle among the pictures of his horses and grandchildren, he pinned up a toy airplane from his coworkers that read "Bruce, Don't Go!"
At Martin's going-away party Friday, his coworkers fought back tears as they recounted memories with him. They placed containers of Twizzlers all over the conference room, dedicated a tree to him, and presented him with a plaque recognizing his service.
Martin is looking forward to being at home, but that doesn't mean he'll stop working. He said his wife of 48 years, Judy Martin, has been compiling a to-do list of chores that's about "48 years long."
"And he does about one-tenth of them!" Judy Martin said, laughing.
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