The multitude of different projects, new skills practiced and corners that he’s maintained and/or renovated in the past 35 years around Miner Institute is part of what has kept things “fresh and interesting,” Steve Fessette said of his time at Miner.
After more than 38 years at Miner Institute – 21 of them as the director of physical plant – Steve is readying himself for retirement. He will wrap up his maintenance department tenure at the end of 2019. Mike Lemza will take over the helm. Mike was hired in January and has been learning the ropes and leading the maintenance team since the start of the year. Miner Institute is “a great place to be,” Mike said. Mike ran a pallet company in Keeseville for nearly 20 years before coming to Miner Institute. He purchased the company in 1996, expanded it in 2011, and then sold it in 2015. At one point, his business had 22 employees, he said.
The maintenance department at Miner Institute maintains around 35 buildings around the property including exterior, windows, mechanicals, painting, HVAC, heating systems, plumbing, electrical, etc. “That’s where our crew become the jack of all trades and master of none,” Steve joked referring to the diversity of skills and knowledge that keeps the Institute operating day in and day out.
The team consists of four maintenance staff members in addition to Steve and Mike – Dan Belrose, Mark Gonyo, Jared Ashline, and Adam LaCount – who work out of the maintenance shop, one of the original Heart’s Delight Farm buildings, though it was under construction at the time of William Miner’s death and not completed until the following year in 1931. Custodial staff members – Brian Bechard, David Boulerice, and Gary Morrison – round out the crew, but work primarily at the Burke Education and Research Center, or the “college” side of the Institute. Brian’s time at Miner Institute started just a few months ahead of Steve in 1981, though he spent a few years in the dairy barn before moving to the maintenance team. He just retired at the end of August.
Steve says that he is proud of how the maintenance team has developed an ownership mentality here. They all feel invested in Miner and its facilities. “You can really tell they care about this place,” Mike added. Each day starts with a morning briefing which promotes good communication. “Everyone knows where everyone’s working. Everyone knows what’s going on,” Steve said.
Steve is proud of how Miner Institute has evolved over the past 38 years. The staff size has grown, there are more facilities, more roads, and more maintenance needs. The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the size of the maintenance team. That really speaks to the skills of the team. “They are very efficient and get things done,” Steve said. Back in the 1980s, Steve recalled that the Institute had a “territorial sentiment.” Members of the maintenance staff had a designated region of the Institute where they worked and you didn’t cross into another person’s area. If you worked in the barn area at that time, you rarely ever went into the education building because it wasn’t your area. “We’ve opened doors and we’re crossing lines and it’s so much better.”
Gary has been working with Brian and will take over his role beginning in September. Brian said that he’s “been doing it for so many years, its automatic.” Brian really is like a well-oiled machine and is meticulous about most everything. He knows the ins and outs of not only the BERC building and the residential housing complex, but the acres of lawn and fields around the property. Brian said he isn’t sure what he will be doing in retirement, but with a relatively new RV and a new snowmobile on the way, he probably won’t have a hard time finding something to do.
Steve plans to travel and spend more time with his family, especially his granddaughter after he retires. He said that he will miss being part of the “ever-changing institute.” The Miner team is a good one, and the maintenance team in particular will be missed, he said. “Every day is something new with projects and people always changing.”
Together, Mike and Steve are overseeing the dairy barn expansion and the installation of a new manure lagoon prior to Steve’s departure. Steve will maintain his involvement in the Miner legacy by continuing to do maintenance at the Alice T Miner Museum as well as the Miner chapel and mausoleum in Riverview Cemetery. Steve also serves on the board of the Alice T. Miner Museum.