Steve Oliver to retire as Guilderland highway superintendent

Steve Oliver

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Steve Oliver, center, stands with two fellow recipients of the highest award given out by the national organization, the American Legion Riders. In August 2017 Oliver became one of just 120 people in the country to receive the award. At left is Fred Truax of Hannibal, New York, who won the award in 2014, and at right is Dan Nolin, who received it in 2016. “It’s like our Medal of Honor,” Truax said at the time. 

GUILDERLAND — Town highway Superintendent Steve Oliver said on Monday that he plans to retire soon. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “It’s time to go out and start exploring on my motorcycle a little more and spending a little more time with the grandkids, while I’ve still got my health.”

He had already let everyone in the town government know, he said on Monday, but he preferred to wait until handing in his resignation letter later this week, before talking at length about his plans.

Oliver, 57, has served as highway superintendent since 2011 and worked for the town for more than 30 years. Oliver has reshaped the superintendent’s post in several ways.

An immensely popular figure locally, Oliver has placed a top priority on honoring veterans, which dovetails with his work as president of the Helderberg Chapter of the American Legion Riders Post 977 in Altamont.

As highway superintendent, he has worked to identify all of the veterans from Guilderland who have been killed in wartime and to have a road in the town named after each one.

This work has been completed now, with portions of these roads named for these servicemen: Carman Road, from Lydius Street to Western Avenue, for Lieutenant Colonel Todd Clark, killed in Afghanistan in June 2013; West Lydius Street for First Lieutenant Lanny G. Ladouceur, killed in Vietnam in 1970; East Lydius Street for Army Specialist Raphael A. Nieves Jr., killed in Afghanistan in 2011; and Route 146, from Western Avenue to Ostrander Road, for Major General Harold J. Greene of Guilderland, who was killed in Afghanistan in August 2014.

Oliver has also saved the town money over the last few years by purchasing second-hand equipment — including a paver and an asphalt roller — that has allowed employees to expand the scope of work they have been able to do in-house, rather than paying private contractors.

This will be the third year, Oliver said this week, that town road resurfacing will be handled by his department.

Coincidentally, he said, his retirement will take effect at the end of April; on April 28, the town will inaugurate its Hometown Heroes Banners project centered in Tawasentha Park. In addition to the 28 banners to honor individual veterans, the park will also be home — through the Legion Riders’ efforts — to a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from April 26 through 29 that will be guarded day and night by the American Legion Riders.

For months, Oliver and the Legion Riders have worked together with Michelle Viola-Straight, president of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, who has been the driving force behind the Hometown Heroes project.

“It all just happened to be coincidence,” said Oliver this week of the timing. “My 31st-year anniversary is April 6, so I just finished out the month.”

With town Councilman Lee Carman, Oliver is currently one of just two Republicans serving in elected office in the now Democrat-dominated town.

Town Republican Committee Chairman Douglas Breakell called Oliver a “salt-of-the-earth guy,” and said, “We’re sad to see him leave, but good for him, too.”

The position of highway superintendent is “probably one of the biggest in the town,” Breakell said, noting that the day he spoke with The Enterprise marked the third snowstorm in two weeks’ time, and that the superintendent is charged with making sure that the town’s roads remain clean, and all of its residents safe.

The town’s highway department is known as one of the best, Breakell said, and has been for years. Oliver has continued that reputation, and no doubt the next person will too, he said. Breakell added that Oliver’s contributions extend beyond the highway department to “what he does for veterans, what he does for the community.”

Town Supervisor Peter Barber said on Monday that, while he has not yet received a written resignation, he understands that Oliver plans to retire as of April 28 or possibly 27. When he does receive the letter, he said, he will ask the town board to follow the same process for finding a replacement that the board is now undertaking to fill the position of town justice that is open since the resignation of Richard Sherwood.  

The difference, Barber said, is that the election in November of this year, in the case of the highway superintendent position, will be for the remainder of the unexpired term, which is one year, whereas the person elected town justice at that time will start a new, four-year term.

Oliver and the Legion Riders members will continue to manage the third day of the New York State Run for the Fallen, he said, which they have done since the run’s inception two years ago. The 2018 run — to be held from June 8 through 10 in New York State — will be the third annual event at which runners stop, once per mile, to greet Gold Star families and townspeople and to commemorate individual service members who have died. The run is a national event that currently spans 19 states and runs from April through August.

In August 2017, Oliver received an award from the national organization, given out to just 10 people each year across the country who “go above and beyond the call of duty for the American Legion Riders,” presenter Fred Truax said while handing over a Rider of Honor commemorative patch in a ceremony at the Altamont post. “It’s like our Medal of Honor,” Truax said at the time.

Viola-Straight called Oliver “a very humble guy” and said that he has connected and united people throughout the town and “has been a huge part of the town’s growth and history.”

Harold F. Greene, father of the major general killed in Afghanistan three-and-a-half years ago, said of Oliver’s retirement, “It’ll be a loss for the town. He’s been a lot more than just highway superintendent.”

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