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Crunching the numbers

Suhr retires from Union Highway District after half century of accounting

John Suhr, pictured at his desk, at his last meeting for the Union Highway District on Dec. 11.

Contributed photo / Joe Cladouhos
John Suhr, pictured at his desk, at his last meeting for the Union Highway District on Dec. 11.

GRANGEVILLE – It’s been about a half century of crunching numbers and handling the details of a rural highway district for John Suhr. And as of Dec. 11 the 75-year-old Grangeville resident has retired from this part-time work.

Now what’s in store? Take on a pressing personal task long left neglected:

“Just maintaining my own desk. It just looks terrible,” laughed Suhr. “It’s piled right to the ceiling.”

Suhr was first contacted to serve as the accountant for the Union Highway District (UHD) in 1964.

“I said I’d give it a try, and I’ve been trying ever since,” he laughed.

Currently, UHD oversees 52 miles of road starting four miles north of Grangeville along Old Highway 7, operating under an elected three-person board of commissioners. It has one full-time employee who patrols and maintains roads, conducting grading, sanding and snowplowing, and keeping the mail and school bus routes open.

Working for the district was a supplemental job for Suhr who also worked for the U.S. Forest Service; he started in the agency’s business and finance section and later into its personnel and payroll department. Suhr retired from the Forest Service in 1998.

At one time, Suhr also did some income tax work, but he left that years ago, he explained, due to “government rules and regulations.”

“So basically I’ve been retired for several years,” he said, but he kept on with the highway district to have something to do. And that work, eight to 16 hours a month, has besides accounting been serving secretarial duties for the commission such as keeping minutes and running the office, and directing both work and inquiries to the appropriate people.

“Just doing anything that comes in,” he said, “or seeing that whoever needed to do something did it.”

Overall, this was routine work with little that stands out from the standard day-to-day operations of a highway district. Keeping roads open during the winter is a challenge for one person, in instances at times fighting continual drifts, he explained, and citizens at times not understanding of that workload. A specific challenge was when the district took over jurisdiction of eight miles of Highway 7, “which was so different from the gravel roads we were used to maintaining, so there was a lot of contract work on that.”

With his retirement from UHD, Suhr, who has been single, “all my life,” he said, has no specific plans.

“I’m just going to continue working on whatever that’s got to be done, I’ll do,” he said.

Replacing Suhr at the district is Joe Forsmann of Joe Forsmann & Associates of Cottonwood.


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