Gerry Schulte once lived in a tent. Then he built a water district.
Schulte and his wife landed in Colorado in the mid-1970s with few possessions. And now, when looking back at his 37 years at the helm of the Evergreen Metropolitan District, his fondest memory is of one possession the district acquired: a sludge truck.
“I would say that the one thing that brought us the most joy, the greatest happiness, was when we bought our first sludge truck,” Schulte said. “When we were starting out, we had this old machine to separate out the sludge from the wastewater. It would go out a lot, and we'd have every available bucket just full of sludge; it was terrible. So finally we bought a truck to transport it down to a landfill … and the day that truck pulled up, we all cheered.”
Schulte, the general manager of the district that provides water and wastewater services to parts of Evergreen, is retiring this week. Under Schulte’s leadership, the district grew from 900 sewer-only customers to the 6,000 water and sewer customers it has today. By his own estimate, he’s put together projects and investments worth $20 million to $30 million.
Dave Lighthart, who has been with the district for 29 years himself, will take the reins from Schulte, and Lighthart knows he has some big boots to fill.
“The district is in excellent shape, and now it’s just up to me not to mess it up,” he said. “We have very good people and an excellent board, so I’m pleased to take over and try to maintain what Gerry has established here.”
Those associated with the district agree that Schulte built a family atmosphere over the last four decades.
“We work well together here,” Schulte said, “and we interact with each other, and we do the job. But we’re not here because this is just a job. People come here, and they’ve stayed. … Prior to me coming, I don’t think people stayed very long.”
The most challenging of Schulte’s many years with the district was during the drought of 2002, when water levels were so low that Bear Creek ran dry, and the district had to draw water from Evergreen Lake. Not only did Schulte have the Friends of Bear Creekprotesting that the move would irreversibly damage the fish population, but communities downstream began drinking bottled water because they feared wastewater would be intermingled with their drinking water.
“There was nothing to worry about,” Schulte said. “All of the water was treated and safe to drink. And the fish came back pretty quickly, in about three years.”
Landing in Colorado
Schulte wound up in Colorado in the mid-1970s when he and his wife were touring the country, sleeping at night in a tent. They ran out of money in Colorado, so they stayed. Schulte eventually got a job with the city of Boulder at its wastewater treatment plant; he worked there for three years and eventually came to Evergreen.
“We probably lived in that tent in Boulder, well, at least until I got paid, so probably two or three weeks,” he said. “We lived in the tent that whole summer. It was a real adventure. There are a lot of crazy things that happen to you when you live in a tent … and we didn’t have anything, so it didn’t matter.”
After Boulder, he took a job in Evergreen, where he intended to learn managerial skills over a year and move on. That one year turned into 37, and for those who’ve worked with Schulte over that time, an era is ending.
“To me, Gerry is the Evergreen Metropolitan District,” said district board president Mark Davidson. “If this were a football team, he'd be the face of the franchise. … He's been here longer than anybody except our attorney. So for the rest of us, he's the face of the district, and it's going to be very strange for a while moving ahead without him.
“I think he's an extremely solid, honest and straightforward person. I just don't think there’s anything negative you can say about the guy. And this sounds a little cliché, but I think the whole Evergreen community has been extremely lucky that we've had him running our water and wastewater systems as long as we have.”
Contact Stephanie DeCamp at Stephanie@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check CanyonCourier.com for updates and breaking news.
The Evergreen Metropolitan District building at 30920 Stagecoach Blvd will be renamed the Gerald C. Schulte Building on Thursday during an open house to celebrate his retirement. The party will be from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.