Ron Massine has seen a lot of changes over the years, and during 32 years of custodial and maintenance work in Lovell schools, 26 as maintenance director, he has rolled with and adapted to the changes.
And that’s why the good-natured Massine could retire on September 1 with the satisfaction of a job well done.
“Ron went through a lot of changes that occurred with our technology over the course of his career,” Supt. Dan Coe said. “He was a lifelong learner and adapted to get the job done.
“He’s one of a kind. He was very dedicated and committed to the school district. He worked hard for his 30-plus years.”
The Lovell schools’ master of everything mechanical has lived in the community since March of 1978 when he married Kelly Meeker of Lovell. He grew up in Billings, a 1973 graduate of Billings Senior High School, and after a two-year stint in the Army, he worked at a welding shop in Billings before meeting Kelly.
“I wanted to live in a small town,” he said, and Lovell was perfect for the newlyweds.
Massine worked for the Town of Lovell for about six months, then went to work doing construction with his brother-in-law, Tom Mulford.
With construction slowing in the fall of 1980, Massine started looking for new work and applied with School District No. 2, which was just putting the finishing touches on the new gymnasium. After an interview with Supt. Glenn Engelking, Massine was hired and started work as the gym maintenance custodian in January of 1981. A 32-year career was born.
After four years at the gym, Massine moved to the elementary school and learned under veteran custodian Chuck Wittick, as well as Wes Smith.
“I apprenticed with Chuck learning boiler systems and heating,” Massine said. “I loved boilers and controls, so Glenn Engelking sent me to schools so I would be able to operate and work on the HVAC systems.”
Massine transferred to the high school in 1987 and was named the first maintenance director for the school district, overseeing all of the maintenance for multiple facilities for the next 26 years, overseeing all buildings and grounds, supervising custodians and ordering supplies.
“My main responsibilities were to keep the schools up and running so the students could be educated in a safe and clean environment,” Massine said. “What I loved most was that I got to take care of all of the HVAC systems, working on boilers and controls, minor electrical and plumbing – hands-on stuff, fixing things. I always enjoyed fixing things.”
He also greatly enjoyed supervising more than 100 summertime student workers over the years.
“I loved watching them get their first paycheck,” he said. “They had so much enthusiasm and a zeal for life. For Pete’s sake, I loved that. I really liked that.”
As technology changed, Massine’s job evolved. Computerized control systems came into being, including a state-of-the art energy management system at the new Lovell Middle School building, which required Massine to go for more specialized training.
“I’ve been asked what the biggest challenges were in my career, and I have to say, hands down, the computer systems that now operate our schools,” he said. “I remember taking classes for computers and then learning energy management systems on the computers. To keep updated as computers evolved was tough.”
Another major change in Massine’s job took place in 2002 when the School Facilities Commission (now the School Facilities Dept.) was formed, forcing Massine to spend more and more time in the office interacting with the state agency and attending various workshops and meetings.
“Before 2002 you pretty much went to the school board for projects and if there was money we’d do it,” he said. “After that, everything had to be approved by the State.”
For instance, when two ovens went out at the elementary school cafeteria in around 2005, Massine had to get approval from the SFC to order new ones, whereas before he would have simply gone to the superintendent and ordered new ovens.
“It took a little bit of local control away,” Massine said of the change.
Massine worked on many district projects over the years from small repairs to helping plan new buildings and remodeling others. Projects include a major kitchen remodel at the elementary school, the change from the open classroom concept to regular classrooms at the elementary, a new bus barn, the new middle school project, demolishing the old high school/middle school building and the old church building, myriad smaller remodeling and repair projects, a new track and bleachers at the high school, other changes to the athletics grounds, a complete renovation of the high school HVAC system and planning for the current remodeling project under way at the high school.
Massine is also proud to have played a major role in 1992 in moving the district off town water with the installation of submersible pumps, saving the district thousands of dollars over the years.
The high school remodeling project, which he helped to plan, was gaining steam as Massine retired, but he said he has left the district in good hands with new maintenance director Jason Jolley at the helm.
“I’ve been training Jason in all aspects of the job,” Massine said. “He worked with me for several years. I wish him well.”
Massine noted that he has worked with six superintendents and 15 principals over the years, and he has also worked with a number of excellent engineers and contractors on various projects.
“We’ve worked with contractors that we’ve known for years, and the projects have always been manned by quality people,” he said. “Because of our rapport with them, we’ve been able to get excellent jobs and we were able to solve issues. I always felt fortunate to have the contractors I’ve had.”
Massine also said the district has been proactive, stressing preventive maintenance during the summer.
Now that he’s retired, Massine is taking life one day at a time.
“I enjoy being with my wife, as we are best friends, and I want to travel to see my sons, do some hunting and fishing and read more as winter sets in,” he said.
Son Jake teaches English and literature in Beijing, China, Phil works with intelligence gathering in Charlottesville, Va., and Seth recently moved to Olympia, Wash.
“I will miss being around the kids and my friends at work, but I’m very thankful that I was able to retire,” Massine said. “It was time for someone else to take over.”
by David Peck