For the Sierra Vista residents on refuse truck driver Jesus “Chuy” Estrada’s route, garbage day always meant something a little bit more.
There are families whose children grew up waiting for the dump truck to make the stop at their house and maybe get the chance to sit inside the cab or get a photo with their favorite driver. There are residents who have become friends with Estrada and his whole family, touched by his work ethic and ever-present smile.
For 35 years, Estrada has put his life into making the city a better place through his work with the refuse department and on Friday, he got in the driver seat one more time on his last day of a long, happy career.
Coworkers, family, friends and city officials all wished Estrada a happy retirement at a heartfelt ceremony on Thursday in the Public Works building.
As Public Works Director Sharon Flissar said, there was no worker there now who had worked a single day that Estrada wasn’t working.
“How strange it’s going to be on Monday,” Flissar said. “It will begin a new era, what I call the P.C. era — Post Chuy.”
“He’s been the man, the myth, the legend of Public Works for 35 years and he kept this immaculately clean refuse truck, washed the truck everyday and won every award that could possibly be given.”
Over his career, Estrada was awarded for his safe driving, overall excellence and was even named as one of 10 Life, Well Run Community Heroes from city/county governments across the country.
Estrada started at the city as a part-time employee in 1984 after being laid off from a construction job in town.
Pete Castro, the man for whom the Public Works building is named, told Estrada if he worked out they’d bring him on full time, something he proved himself worthy of in a short amount of time.
“When I started, I started washing the trucks and the supervisor saw what I was doing and he says ‘from now on this is going to be your truck, learn the route and you can drive it,’” Estrada said. “I always had favor with the mechanics because of how clean my truck was.”
Estrada’s legacy of spotless trucks still lasts today with his coworkers.
Over his 35 years in the refuse industry, Estrada has seen technology and the methods evolve a great deal.
“We worked alleys, streets, summer, winter, raining, it doesn’t matter what we were out there doing it by hand; 16 years by hand,” he said. “You know why (the industry changed), a lot of us were getting hurt — I got hurt. I threw out my hips.”
Regardless of whatever challenges the day brought, Estrada always remained positive and acted as a mentor to many in the department.
Refuse supervisor Darrin Stensby has worked with Estrada since 1991 and considers him to be his teacher.
“He was here when I got here and honestly I owe my career to him, at least the start of it,” he said. “Chuy’s got that charisma, that willingness to work and he’s the kind of employee you would really love to have.”
“He’s dedicated and it’s not just with the workers, there will be people who had him on their routes for many years and they are going to miss him; he’s touched a lot of people.”
While Stensby was incredibly happy for his friend, he will miss him at work.
“He takes great pride in Sierra Vista and doing his job and that’s what really sets him apart, that’s his number one goal every day,” Stensby said. “He’s that rock, he’s always there and it’s going to be hard to move forward without him.”
Refuse worker Tim Jones is another of Estrada’s “old school” coworkers who has worked alongside him for 20 years.
Jones considers Estrada a brother and said saying goodbye is bittersweet.
“It’s celebrating his 35 years here but at the same time he’s leaving,” Jones said. “Not only is he a coworker he’s a brother of the Lord he’s a christian as well.”
“Just him leaving is big shoes to fill and I’m going to miss him.”
For Estrada, the City’s Public Works building and city hall are his second home. While he is ready to take a break, he will miss the kids on his route that he watched grow up, always willing to stop for them or wave hello. He’ll miss the friendships he made and the actual work itself.
“My friends, my department ... I’ll miss just helping them out when they break down, calling them up and saying, ‘where you at? How much do you have? OK, I’ll start from the other end and we will meet in middle,’” Estrada said. “They always call me because thats what I’m good for.”
Estrada said he learned his strong work ethic from his father who also worked for the city. He’s passing on that ethic to his daughter who is currently in Italy doing training to become a surgeon.
Chuy, the man known for his beautiful refuse truck and kind smile, has loved every day that he worked for the city. Through the last 35 years, Estrada has been thankful and learned that the enjoying every day is the best way to live.
“What I like about my job is because I always put God first because He’s the one that got me this far,” he said. “When I got to 30 years I said, ‘God, take me, give me the strength, give me good health so I can get to my goal — glory and honor for what He gave to me.”
”I’m going to miss everybody.”