As years go, 2020 has left a lot to be desired. But this year does boast a positive fact about PennDOT—we are celebrating our 50th anniversary as a state agency.
District 2 is shining an employee spotlight on Russell Hearn, a Purchasing Agent in Centre County. In spring of 2020, Russ celebrated 40 years of PennDOT service. Former Centre County Maintenance Manager Chris Maney referred to Russ as a true asset.
Russ came on board as a part-time Highway Maintenance worker two weeks after graduating high school in June of 1980. That fall, he became a full-time employee.
In the early 80s, before job titles were changed, Russ served as an Automotive Serviceman. As such, Russ performed work similar to a full-service gas station attendant. He cleaned cars, filled gas tanks, and checked oil. At that time, this work was not limited to PennDOT. Russ also performed these tasks for other agencies like the Pennsylvania State Police and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
As job titles were changed and reclassified, Russ became a Transportation Equipment Operator Trainee and then a Transportation Equipment Operator.
Russ then moved into service as a Tradesman Helper in March of 1985. He became a Stock Clerk 2 in June of 1988 and was promoted as a Stock Clerk 3 in September 1989.
In November of 2003, Russ was promoted to his current position as Purchasing Agent.
Over the years, Russ has served five permanent County Maintenance Managers, along with a number of "Acting" Maintenance managers. The most recent Manager, Chris Maney, noted that as Stock Clerk, Russ had a knowledge of parts, forms, and needs that was unrivaled. Russ kept an immaculate storeroom that would routinely get visitors from outside of District 2 who were eager to learn Russ's secrets.
Chris likened Russ's stock clerk abilities to Radar O'Reilly of MASH, noting: "Russ always seemed to know what you needed even before you knew it yourself. He's a great records keeper and tracked all kinds of inventory, taking care to re-stock in a timely manner."
Along with personnel changes, Russ has also seen a number of other changes.
Serving in any position within the Fiscal Unit can be challenging. Over the years, the Department has evolved, moving away from paper forms and snail mail to digital applications like SAP, email, and electronic data entry & tracking. Russ shares that changing technology proved to be a bit of a hurdle, since he's not a "natural" when it comes to data entry and typing. And because roles assigned to positions can be very specific, Russ took part in detailed SAP training.
Carrying out duties under COVID-19 restrictions can sometimes feel like a heavy lift. But Russ notes that keeping up with contracts and ensuring that details are correct and everything is done properly is more important than ever.
"We're all working together to get things right. That's what we did before the pandemic and that's what we do now," Russ said. "Working under these conditions is challenging, but we're getting it done".
Over the years, Russ has also seen some memorable events. In the early 90's, he reported for work as a Stock Clerk during the mid-February "Blizzard of 1993". Russ came into work on Friday night and didn't leave for home until late on Sunday.
But snow and work experiences pale in comparison to the challenge he's faced with his youngest daughter Ayla. She was born in 2006 with Spina bifida and had surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia just seven hours after her birth. Spina bifida is a birth defect in which a baby's spinal cord fails to develop or close properly. Ayla's initial surgery was successful. She walks with leg braces and has had a second surgery to make everyday functions a little easier. Ayla currently attends high school in Bellefonte, next door to Russ's work location.
Russ has three other children who are all doing well. His older son works as an Equipment Operator. His older daughter works in banking, and his youngest son is studying architectural design at Penn State University.
Russ will mark 41 years of PennDOT service at the end of April and plans to retire in June of 2021. He's looking forward to enjoying more of his favorite past-times: camping, hiking, and bicycle riding along Rails to Trails. When not at home in Snydertown in rural Centre County, he's traveled across Pennsylvania, pitching his tent at every state-owned campground in the Commonwealth. In retirement, he figures he can branch out to sites outside of PA.
Russ will truly be missed. Over the years, he's been conscientious, willing to pitch in wherever he's needed, and always offers his co-workers a positive attitude.
"Russ has a lot of garage knowledge," said Chris Maney when asked about Russ's work. "Any functionality that you need to know or do for Maintenance, Russ can get it done—without blowing his own horn."
It's employees like Russ who help elevate PennDOT's reputation for hard work and good customer service. Our employees are the reason PennDOT is able to celebrate 50 years of service.
We're proud to acknowledge Russ Hearn's experience and dedication as part of our 50-year anniversary celebration. Learn more about PennDOT's history at PennDOT.gov/50years.