Longtime North Coast garbage man Jan Kercher is hanging up his bin after almost four decades on the job.
His last day at Western Oregon Waste will be Friday.
One of his co-workers, Rod McCauley, a veteran of hauling garbage for more than 30 years in Astoria, recalls that Kercher was somewhat legendary in Astoria in his prime because of his size and ability. He stands 6 foot 3, and in his younger days could carry two fully loaded garbage cans on his shoulders.
McCauley likes to tell the story about when Kercher was training him on a rainy, windy day.
His gloves got wet so Kercher offered him his, which were dry. "It was like I was a little kid, putting on my dad's gloves - they were huge," McCauley said.
He remembers as a teenager watching Kercher heft heavy cans of garbage off the ground with one hand, throwing them up on his shoulder and packing them off to his truck. "He was a legend," he said.
Kercher has lived in Astoria since he was nine when his family moved from Tillamook. After serving in the U.S. Army for a few years, he returned to his hometown at the age of 22 in need of a job. He heard there was an opening for a part-time position at the garbage company and was hired at his interview in 1970. Within two months, he had earned a full-time position, and he said he is "still here after 39 years and three owners - time flies when you're having fun!"
During those years, Kercher worked as a residential route driver for 18 years, as a commercial route driver for six years, and as a roll-off driver for more than five years.
"It's been a good paying job that puts food on my table, a roof over my head and pays my bills." said Kercher. "WOW to me was like one big family, with great people to work with. I will miss my WOW family; they mean a lot to me."
Kercher has favorite memories during his time hauling garbage in Astoria. He recalled the time he was picking up garbage at Astor Court in the snow and stopped to have a snowball fight with about 20 rowdy kids "because they were just pounding us with snowballs - I had to fight back!"
Laughing, he added, "And, I will never forget the little girl who called me 'Jan, Jan, The Garbage Man.'"
He also remembers the time one early December morning while running the front-end loader down by the Port of Astoria Docks seeing three or four Astoria police cars in the area. He flagged them down and asked if they were looking for three young men running on foot.
They were. Kercher reported that he saw the boys running toward the docks.
About 15 minutes later, Kercher came upon the police officers and they had the boys in handcuffs for breaking Christmas decorations in the neighborhoods.
Much to Kercher's surprise, one of the boys was his supervisor's son. Kercher recalled that he felt bad, but at the same time felt he did the right thing. (Much to his relief, his supervisor agreed and said his son was wrong for what he did.)
Kercher will be moving to Gresham Saturday to be closer to family. He plans to travel and do some camping in his retirement.