The Columbus man was part of the crew that helped build the low-income housing complex in the 1970s. Tate said he was employed at the time as a maintenance worker at a meat packing plant in Schuyler, but workers there went on strike, so he needed a job.
That is when he found out about the construction of the Columbus Housing Authority and Heritage House and became part of the construction crew. Tate didn’t have intentions of sticking around long after it opened, but that is exactly what happened.
Since the housing authority opened 1977, Tate has been the head maintenance man overseeing the upkeep of that building and the Heritage House apartment complex. For his dedication to the job, Tate was awarded the Maintenance Person of the Year by the Nebraska Housing Association. He received the honor at the Housing Association Conference in Kearney in September.
He was nominated by Bonnie McPhillips, executive director of the housing authority, who said Tate has an outstanding work ethic and rarely misses a day of work.
“John has an attitude of ownership with the Columbus Housing Authority. He takes care of the facility like it is his own,” McPhillips wrote in the nomination form.
Tate said he enjoys his work, even though it requires him to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to emergencies that might come up.
His work can involve something as simple as changing a light bulb for a tenant to more complicated electrical and plumbing work. Tate, a native of Spencer, moved to Columbus after he got out of the United States Army to work at Gerhold Construction where he operated heavy equipment. He then went to work at the meat packing plant before ending up at the housing authority.
What has kept the 78-year-old working there for the past 36 years has been those he helps.
“They are good people and they are easy to work with,” he said.
McPhillips said Tate’s history with the facility has been helpful since she became the executive director there three years ago.
“He literally knows this place inside and out, which is a huge asset to have in a maintenance person,” she wrote.
Even after all the years on the job, Tate has no plans of retiring any time soon.
“I’m too young to quit,” he said.