DPW supervisor on the job for 50 years

SUSSEX COUNTY. Ernest Katzenstein says he enjoys his work and has no plans to retire.

| 02 Apr 2024 | 10:19

Ernest Katzenstein is a supervisor in the Sussex County Department of Public Works (DPW), where he has worked for 50 years.

The Branchville resident enjoys his job and has no plans to retire.

“It’s hard to decide when you want to retire. I’m happy. I feel good. I like what I do,” he said.

Before going to work for the DPW, Katzenstein, 69, was asked to work for the state Division of Fish & Wildlife. “I was hesitant, so I didn’t.”

He knew people who were working for the DPW. “I knew the foreman at that time from the Fire Department. Different other guys that I knew around town were working for the county. So, I said, ‘Well, I’ll try it.’ “

Katzenstein enjoys the variety in his year-round work. “The part I like about it the most: You don’t do the same job every day. You have seasonal jobs. We have your winter. We have your summer: patching, mowing, pipework. You have your spring, your spring cleanups.”

Now, the DPW is preparing for spring. “We’re sweeping roads now and picking up debris. Next thing will be patching. We’re doing pipe jobs. Then we will be weed whacking and mowing. We whack all the guide rails, mow all the roads back. Then we’ll be checking drains and putting new cross drains in for paving,” he said.

The department is responsible for unpredictable events. “Everything is weather-related with the road department. If you have an ice storm or if you have a hurricane or high winds, you’re called out to close roads. You’re called out because trees are down, wires are down, have an automobile accident.”

Despite this, he enjoys the job. “I still like plowing snow in my tandem.”

One drawback is that the public can be demanding.

“Sometimes, they don’t understand that there’s DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) regulations that you have to go by. You can’t just put a pipe in any place they want you to.”

The job also comes with risks. He once was nearly hit by a car on the job.

“One time, probably 40 years ago when I was in Sussex, on a good frosty morning. You know if you go out and you hop in your car on a good frosty morning and you don’t let it clear and then you go toward the sun and the sun shines in there, boy oh boy.

“So many of them come down the route. They can’t see. I almost got hit by one, one time on Deckertown Turnpike,” he said.

The job has given Katzenstein opportunities to meet many people.

“I’ve met a lot of nice people. I made a lot of friends. I had many, many people work with me and for me. I had a lot of good co-workers, good assistants. I would say in all the years I’ve been in management, I’ve maybe had one person that was really bad.”

In his spare time, Katzenstein enjoys hunting. He also works at the New Jersey State Fair on the tractor pull and setting up the demolition derby.