Collections Operator Does it Right

Collections operator elevates inspection program to new level and takes away top honors.

Collections Operator Does it Right

Dean Ronk sits at his operator’s station, monitoring the camera’s progress and coding defects during a sewer line inspection.

Giving 110 percent is the clichéd territory of coaches and bad managers. Giving 150 percent is Dean Ronk’s territory.

That’s essentially what Ronk, a collections system operator with the Roseburg (Oregon) Urban Sanitary Authority, was asked to do when he was tasked with taking the 160-mile system from a 10-year inspection cycle to a seven-year cycle. 

That equates to 23 miles per year — just shy of a 150 percent increase from the previous 16-mile-per-year goal. And that’s not counting the 4,100 manholes that are also part of the seven-year cycle.

“A 10-year program, that’s really nothing,” Ronk says. “I mean, anybody could get that done, but a seven-year, that was a big challenge.”

It would be a lofty target for any small-utility operator, but Ronk not only hit that benchmark, he overshot it.

“Currently, he’s working on about a 6.4-year completion,” says Steve Lusch, collections system superintendent with the Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority. “He basically does that all on his own; he runs that program, and we gave him a timeline.”

No surprise then that in 2017 he was recognized locally and regionally as Collections Operator of the Year by the Umpqua Basin Operators Section and Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association.

It was a poignant end to Ronk’s career, as the 64-year-old operator has decided to retire when he turns 65 in June.

Doing it right

Ask around and you’ll hear one word used over and over to describe Ronk.

“He’s very meticulous in what he does — not only in the planning phase of it, but also when he’s TV-ing. He’s very meticulous,” Lusch says. “So we can really be confident when we’re working with contractors … because we have confidence in what he tells us.”

With that detail-oriented approach, he ascended through the ranks of the Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority during his 16 years’ service, culminating in the Collections Operator of the Year awards.

“Making sure that everything is done right … that’s something that was bred into me — that its gotta be done right. To me, if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right — that’s my feeling. And you just don’t go at it doing something halfway,” Ronk says. “That’s the way I do my work.”

Getting it done

“What I enjoy most about this job is the challenge,” Ronk says.

The Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority has only been around 30 years, but the system itself is a century old in places. As anyone who manages aging infrastructure can tell you, staying on top of inspections is key to maintaining and getting the most out of the system. 

“Going from a 10-year to a seven-year cycle has put a challenge on,” Ronk says. “We gotta keep the (inspection van) up and running at all times in order to be able to meet that goal, and right now, I’m a little bit ahead of it.”

Ronk worked in the timber industry before coming to the Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority with no experience in pipeline inspection, or with water systems in general for that matter. But with his inherent assets, like his meticulous nature and commitment to reaching goals, there was no surprise that he rose to such prominence. 

“Dean is a very responsible individual, and I know that when I ask him to do something, it’ll get done,” Lusch says. “In a different situation, I’d probably be working for Dean. He’s that type of employee. He comes up with a lot of good ideas, and I value his input on any kind of decisions that I have to make as well.”

Part of the family

Ronk is not the first Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority operator to be awarded the Umpqua Basin Operators Section Collections Operator of the Year award. Thomas Nigh, a collections system foreman who was profiled in Municipal Sewer & Water in 2014, has also earned the honor.

It’s not a coincidence that two operators from the small utility, which is comprised of only 15 full-time collections system employees, have been recognized. 

“We work really close here. We’re as much of a family almost as our own families. And we spend a lot of time together,” Lusch says. “I think that builds unit cohesiveness. And I think it makes employees really want to work for you, and they really want to do well, and they want to produce for you.”

That mindset isn’t an accident either, and it is promoted from the management level. “It comes from the top down; it really does,” Lusch says.

It’s a mentality, but there’s also a practical end to the employee-first approach. “(The general manager is) a very big proponent of operator training. So if our employees need some kind of training or they feel they need some kind of training, they just have to ask,” Lusch says. “He’s a proponent of that and hardly ever refuses the training, if it’s something we need.”

Going out on top

Ronk had already decided to retire when he found out about the awards, and they were a fitting reward for a dedicated career — though he remains modest.

“I’m not one for bragging on myself,” Ronk says. “It was a pretty good honor. I didn’t think I’d ever get something like that.”

Though a pleasant surprise for the veteran operator, he may have been the only one surprised by the nomination. “I felt like Dean deserved that, to be nominated for the award,” Lusch says. “I think he outshines any of the other operators in our area.”

Honorable discharge

After 16 years’ exemplary service to the Roseburg (Oregon) Urban Sanitary Authority, Dean Ronk has decided to cash in his chips. Fittingly, he closed out his last full year by being named 2017 Collections Operator of the Year by both the local Umpqua Basin Operators Section and the regional Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association.

“The award was a biggie. I’ve only got a short time before I’m actually turned out into the pasture,” Ronk says. “It was a shock to me and also to my wife. She was very excited about it.”

He and his wife, high school sweethearts of 45 years, plan to spend time traveling in retirement, camping and vacationing in addition to spending time with their two sons, 44 and 41, and five grandchildren. The pair are resort-hoppers — Disneyland is one of his wife’s favorite destinations — and have also visited Hawaii, with ideas of doing so again.

Ronk says his wife played a role in his recent success as well. “She’s always behind me 100 percent, whatever I do in my job,” Ronk says. “She’s a big help for me.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.