What was supposed to be a three-day part-time gig turned into an almost 33-year career for Joe Uvalle, manager of the Granite Shoals Streets and Parks Department.
Uvalle will retire at the end of December after 32 years and seven months, completing his tenure as the city’s longest-serving employee.
“It’s time,” he said in the conference room at City Hall. “I’ve done all I could.”
That includes paving numerous city roads, helping to build and maintain the diverse parks system, assisting in setting up the city’s Christmas by the Highway lights display, and lending a hand with countless other events.
“We’ve done quite a bit of paving,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
Over the years, Uvalle has worked for all seven city managers, two assistant city managers, and 17 mayors. That’s not how Uvalle expected it to go when he started.
More than three decades ago, Uvalle was in between jobs. A chance meeting with Paul Fincher, then the Granite Shoals public works director, led to a supposedly temporary position.
“I was supposed to work three days that week,” Uvalle said. “They said, ‘Joe, do you know how to run a shredder?’ So, I worked that full week. Then, I was asked to work another three days. They said, ‘Can you run this front end loader?’ So, I put in a full week. Bill Haldy was the mayor. He said, ‘You’ve worked two full weeks. How would you like to come aboard and be a part of the city?’ I said, ‘I’d love to, sir, I’d love to.’”
Back then, Uvalle was one of two city laborers with a variety of skills to serve the city in different ways. No job was too big or too small for him. If mowing was needed, Uvalle took charge. If pavement needed to be laid, Uvalle took it upon himself. He often examined restrooms at the city’s parks, picked up trash, and was part of the Citywide Cleanup, where he’d sometimes load dumpsters and oversee their removal.
And what he didn’t know, he learned, which is how he went from being a laborer to foreman to supervisor and, finally, to manager. Today, nine employees are in the Streets and Parks Department. He credits those workers for the success of the department, especially retired colleague Rick Davenport.
“He worked side by side with me for 20 years,” Uvalle said.
He also greatly appreciates City Manager Jeff Looney and Assistant City Manager Peggy Smith, who see the needs of the department and figure out ways to address them.
“(Smith) helped buy a dump truck, a pickup for myself (for official city use), and a roller, stuff that’s hard to ask (the City Council) for,” Uvalle said.
Smith recalled how often Uvalle would leave his home during storms to set up road barricades and clear downed trees, along with everything else he’s done for the city and its residents. Now, Smith has one more assignment for Uvalle.
“I want him to enjoy his life,” she said.
Homer Will of Burnet County’s Precinct 4 Roads and Bridges Department has worked closely with Uvalle for more than two decades. He said what helped the two establish a great working relationship and friendship is they have the same goal – to serve the residents and put their needs first, especially when there’s flooding that threatens homes and businesses.
The two departments often shared resources and manpower for the benefit of Granite Shoals and county residents.
“We really established our city and county crews as one team,” Will said. “We all pulled together as one team, and we had to get it done for the citizens. The crew Joe developed, as the years go on, it’ll get stronger and stronger.”
Even in retirement, Uvalle is preparing to remain busy. His wife of 48 years, Dolores, has created a honey-do list that includes home renovations and traveling back to their hometown of Dilley. During a city reception honoring her husband, she grinned with delight as she envisioned the time they will have together to do the things they enjoy and still be close to their three children, Lily, Joe, and Carmen, and their 14 grandchildren.
Still, Uvalle knows what he’s leaving. He admitted he’s had other job offers to work for other city halls but declined because what he found in Granite Shoals he didn’t believe could be found everywhere – a family.
“I feel very comfortable being here,” Uvalle recalled telling other suitors. “This is my home. I’m a very honest man, I was friendly. I want to be remembered for the man who tried to do the best he could. I’m going to miss it. It’s one big happy family. That’s the way it always has been. It’s been a good journey. There’s a time to say, ‘It’s time to step down and enjoy life.’”