After 17 years as the superintendent of the Village of Saugerties Department of Public Works, there isn’t a road, street, lane, circle, pothole or storm drain in all the village Robert Ciarlante doesn’t know.
And now, after those 17 years, on June 1 he will be calling it a career. “At 69, I think it’s time to go,” Ciarlante says with a laugh.
During those years, he’s had a couple of wives, raised five “terrific, beautiful girls,” and become friends with most of the village officials, and probably most of its residents, too.
“He’s the salt of the earth,” says Mayor William Murphy. “He’s one of my favorite employees. He’s dedicated everything to the village and he’s always doing right for the people.
“Over the years, he’s helped the village save a lot of money by donating the use of his equipment, and for five years, he refused any pay raise,” Murphy said.
“He’s going to hate that I say this about him, but he’s a close friend, and I have the ultimate respect for him,” the mayor added.
Village Treasurer Helene King is also a big fan. She tears up when she calls him “a good friend,” and says that “he’s going to be greatly missed.”
Mary Frank, village clerk, who’s been on the job as long as Ciarlante has, and will be retiring this summer, said of her longtime friend, “Working with Bob over these last 17 years has always been easy. Whenever I call the DPW with a request, he is always willing to go the extra mile for village residents. I’ll also miss all the crazy nicknames he has for his fellow employees! I wish him a wonderful retirement.”
“And I’ll miss them,” Ciarlante said of all the people he’s worked with in the village, including his eight-man crew.“It’s like a family here.”
When Ciarlante took over the DPW 17 years ago, things weren’t much different than they are now, he said.
“Kevin Keefer, the old DPW superintendent, was retiring, and me and my brother had our own construction company, and I thought it was time to try something new,” Ciarlante said.
He was the youngest of five children growing up in Glasco, living right along the Hudson River, as he still does today. His parents and grandfather operated an ice-cutting business they began in 1920, which provided ice for iceboxes, bars and other businesses. “They had a four-room ice house where they would store 3,000 tons of ice,” Ciarlante said.
By 1944, the family closed down the business; stores, bars, and homes no longer needed ice because of refrigerators. His father and uncle then formed a fuel oil business, which Ciarlante worked at after graduating from Saugerties High School in 1964.
During Vietnam, he was drafted into the Army Corps of Engineers. He was stationed in the Central Highlands during the Tet Offensive. When he returned stateside, he used what he learned with the Corps of Engineers to start a construction business with his brother, where he worked for 33 years before retiring to work for the county for one year, and then coming on board with the village.
Talking about his tenure with the village DPW, he says he’s proud of all the drainage work the department has done. The biggest project was the village’s North St. property, where the village trash dump used to be located. Some of the property near the old dump was collapsing and Ciarlante and his crew built it back up and put in drainage piping, which stabilized the area.
He’s also had to deal with some of the worst flooding Saugerties ever experienced when Irene, Sandy and Lee hit. Homes along Lighthouse Dr. and Ferry St. were flooded out, and Ciarlante and his crew were asked by Murphy to help residents by collecting soaked, ruined furniture and construction debris.
“Irene was the worst,” said Ciarlante. “The tide was two feet higher than I’ve ever seen it.”
And what does Ciarlante’s future hold? “I’ve a lot of projects around the house and property I want to do.”
He also collects antique toys and old cars, which he restores. Most of his vehicles are 1930s cars and trucks but his favorite is a ’62 Chevy convertible with a 409 under the hood.
And what will Ciarlante miss the most? “All the people I’ve worked with. I appreciate them all. If it wasn’t for them…” he trails off. “From everyone in the village offices, to the trustees, to the crew. It’s all great,” he adds, with a smile.