Oliver Groseclose, affectionately nicknamed “Ollie,” has worked steadily at the University’s Power Plant as a plant operative repairman since April 1, 1961, making him the longest-working employee at Southeast Missouri State University.
Oliver, a native of Delta, Mo., said he came to Southeast because a friend informed him of an available position at the Power Plant.
“I had served for three years in the United States military, and needed work. Southeast paid my tuition to get my engineer’s license, and I started working in repairs at the Plant,” said Oliver.
While the Power Plant has changed drastically in the last 45 years, Oliver said his job responsibilities have remained the same.
“The Plant is quadruple the size it was when I came, with twice the amount of machinery and workers,” said Oliver. “But my job as a repairman hasn’t changed. It’s where I want to be.”
Although Oliver has more than 45 years under his belt, he said retirement is “debatable.”
“It’s been a rewarding experience. I don’t have the desire to retire,” said Oliver.
Butch Stidham, co-generational plant manager, has worked with Oliver for six years. He said the truth is Oliver has already tried to retire.
“Ollie decided to retire two years ago, so we arranged some of the paperwork and I wrote his retirement letter. We even gave him a retirement party. By the end of the week, Ollie told me he had changed his mind, so I had to write my first un-retirement letter. We like to say that Ollie is going for the ‘80 & Out Plan,’ but he’ll wait until he’s 80 years old to go out,” quipped Stidham.
Stidham was referring to the retirement system for Missouri state employees in which an employee is eligible to retire when his age plus his years of service equal 80.
A big part of Oliver’s job at the Power Plant is to maintain continuous observation of the machinery to ensure proper steam and fuel levels. Over the course of his career, the University has had to scrap certain machinery because it was either beyond repair or cost too much to maintain. In 1982, the University scrapped a water-feed pump that had been in use since 1949. Oliver, having faith in his abilities, bought the old pump from the scrap yard for $30 and took it home to repair it.
“I fixed the water-feed pump and donated it back to the University in 2006,” said Oliver. “It’s one of our most reliable pumps.”
Stidham said “Ollie is full of new ideas and energy. He works in rotating shifts from days to evenings to nights. Anytime we have a maintenance problem, be it day or night, he comes in to help. He’s also very helpful to the other workers, but he’ll never brag about it.”
Oliver’s expertise at engineering doesn’t stop with repairs to the Power Plant. Since he was a little boy, he’s been fascinated by trains.
“I’ve watched trains all my life. My mother’s parents’ home was very close to the Frisco railroad tracks, and when the steam engine would go by pulling the main freight, every window in the house would rattle, and you could see the smoke and fire in the firebox at night, and the poor old firemen shoveling coal into the firebox. I would watch every train I could go by,” said Oliver. “In 1986, I became a fireman on the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Steam Excursion Railroad.”
Oliver volunteered in the restoration of the 1946 model steam engine in Jackson, Mo., and has restored historical passenger and dining cars. He said he enjoys working on all kinds of machinery.
“I own a lot of equipment – backhoes, cranes, passenger cars, etc. My wife says the house is starting to look like a scrap yard,” said Oliver.
Scott Meyer, director of Facilities Management, said “Ollie is kind of a legend. Everyone knows and loves him.”
Oliver said, “You know you’ve been around for a while when you realize that no one from the beginning is here anymore. I like being able to work with the different people in the Plant. I try to keep my mouth shut.”
Stidham said, “He’s so knowledgeable. Money isn’t his motivation – he just wants to better the Plant. We don’t want him to retire. The Plant’s in pretty nice shape.”