For the last 11 years, the public has told Richfield Town Highway Superintendent Michael Kress that he is the man for the job, the man behind the wheel, or plow, as is the case in recent days.
Maybe it’s his matter of fact way of addressing calamities for the last 18 years, first as an employee before being elected as head of the department. Maybe it’s his unwavering dedication to his job, or loyalty to his crew. Whatever it is, his dedication can be measured in the volumes of praise he extends to his coworkers and the countless unpaid overtime hours he racks up as a salaried employee.
“A lot of the people don’t know,” Kress said. “We’ve got 36 miles of town roads, 15 miles of county roads, seven bridges in town. Five of them are located in the village and we’re responsible for them.” That’s in addition to two cemeteries and Monument Park, within the village, that is in their care as well.
All of this is covered with four full time crew and one part timer that works in the summer. Two additional part timers are called on in the winter on an as-needed basis.
Serving as superintendent of highways gives him the opportunity to do what he enjoys most, a hands-on, outdoors type of job. Preferring careers that keep him outdoors, Kress was once employed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service, traveling across the country as a research technician, until the late 1970s, when his first child was born.
He and his wife of 29 years, Karen, settled down in Richfield Springs in 1980, right around the time they opened an antique business. For 10 years, they bought, sold and collected antique furniture, trinkets and collectibles “until the market changed and made it hard,” to make a profit.
It was then he came on board with the town. By 1995, he was appointed as deputy highway superintendent and in 1997, he was appointed highway superintendent to replace Louis Seamon, who resigned. A year later, he ran against two opponents seeking to fill the remaining one year of the term. After garnering 83 percent of the vote, Kress retained the seat and has held it, running unopposed ever since.
“It showed me the people are happy with what I’m doing. If you’re doing your job people tend not to run against you,” Kress said.
And part of his job, he offered with a resigned nod of his head, “is going out in the middle of the night and weekends to see if the roads need to be plowed. It means being tied down and not being able to go anywhere,” in the winter.
So the warmer months are when he and his wife and their son, Kevin, would spend time together. Living in a small town made the task easier, he said. “We like the friendliness of living in a small town. The people are friendly and outgoing.”
Being a part of this community has been so important to him that he became a member of the Richfield Springs Lions Club and a member of the fire department. He also serves on the county Republican committee and served with the Town Highway Association for Otsego County.
He and his wife lived and met one another in Whitesboro. After receiving his education in Environmental Science and Forestry, Kress pursued a career working outdoors; that’s where he is most comfortable.
Although he doesn’t bowl anymore, Kress said, on his days off, he enjoys golf. It’s something he picked up in high school and agreed he’s good enough to go against Tiger Woods, “until he plays the first shot,” he laughed.
Antique hunting is still a favorite pastime of his, and he and his wife spend time visiting shops and attending the Bouckville Antiques Fair and the many dealers along the way.
He takes pride in his job, and in his town, and worries about the landscapes and roads with the past year’s weather. All the flooding, high water levels in the lake, and now all the snow has given Kress concerns regarding the spring thaws.
“We had $530,000 in damages town-wide,” he said, assuring most had been paid by federal emergency funding and the rest was expected to be covered. “But everything around here (runs off and) ends up in the lake unfortunately. When that snow melts, it won’t be going down into the ground,” which he said was still saturated for months after the flooding.
He’s already thinking of how his department can prepare to help if flooding occurs. “We’ll have to make sure there are no ice blockages in the culverts and just make sure we do everything we can do come spring to make sure there are no ice jams anywhere.”
What is his motivation that keeps him going as town highway superintendent? “It’s just one more way of serving the people and helping the community out.”