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  • NRPR maintenance manager George Kuck hangs up his clippers

    Most people know him as the maintenance man extraordinaire for Pima County parks, but Steve Anderson knows colleague and friend George Kuck as the guy who gave him back his life.

    It was back in 2009 when Anderson, planning division manager for Pima County’s Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department, returned to work after four-and-a-half months following a devastating stroke. Anderson still had trouble finding words to express himself, which “was very frustrating, to say the least,” he said. 

    “George knew that I needed to practice my speaking to get better,” Anderson continued, “and he would ask me about anything and everything to make me talk, and patiently wait until I found the words to respond. I didn’t know it at the time, but that helped me a tremendous amount, and I got better quicker because he cared enough to do that.”

    George KuckKuck (pronounced Cook), NRPR’s gruff, but loveable Operations Maintenance Manager, will retire May 1 after 30 years of pruning, patching and preserving Pima County parks. The job – and the county – have changed a lot since Kuck and a buddy hitchhiked their way across the country from Long Island in 1976.

    He arrived tired and broke, having lost his wallet somewhere along the way.

    “We slept in the public fiduciary lot at the cemetery,” recalled Kuck, who gave plasma to earn a few bucks during those first few days in Tucson. Years later, that experience would give him a new appreciation for the plight of homeless individuals sometimes found sleeping in parks or river washes.

    Kuck soon found his footing and secured landscaping work. That led to a job as a trades maintenance technician with Pima County, working at Ora Horn Park in Marana, back when this Marana park was under NRPR’s supervision.

    “The park used to be surrounded by fields and when they would crop dust, we’d all have to run in and take cover,” he recalled with a laugh.

    There were other culture shocks that the 61-year-old New Yorker encountered when he moved to Arizona, like the propensity of his fellow landscapers to want to take “siester” under a tree during their lunch break.

    “I just couldn’t do that,” Kuck said.

    Back in Kuck’s early days on the job, the Parks & Rec maintained road medians as well as the fields at Kino Sports Complex. When the park was being readied for Major League Baseball, Kuck worked closely with an experienced groundskeeper who had been hired away from the Boston Reds Sox’s minor league affiliate.

    “But two weeks before spring training opened, the guy got really sick and had to resign, so my staff had to take over,” Kuck recalled. 

    It was one of many challenges Kuck took on over the years. What he’s most proud of, though, is maintaining a consistent level of service, even as the County has added parks in the face of budget cuts.

    “I have to give a lot of credit to my staff,” said Kuck, who assigns his more than 100 workers to parks closest to their homes.  

    “That way they can respond quickly, plus they take a lot of pride and ownership in their parks because they’re in their neighborhoods.”

    Kuck’s retirement plans include getting more involved in his Flowing Wells community, working with neighborhood leader Ellie Towne on the 10-year anniversary of the community center that bears her name, and volunteering to help build a disc golf course along the south bank of the Rillito River Park, east of Ruthrauff.

    Kuck’s past management role meant more time in the office and in meetings and less time out in the parks. Retirement should afford him the flexibility to get his hands dirty.

    “I miss being outside and doing the hands-on stuff.”
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