Interview with Robert Atteberry, OCI Maintenance Man
by Kevin Richards, Community Relations Director
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Great Bend, Kansas. I left there when I was five years old. I moved in with my grandparents in Los Angeles.
I finished high school, got married, and worked in Los Angeles for several years. We decided to move to Oregon to slow down. We had three kids.
What did you do when you got to Oregon?
I worked for Cal Roofing putting on aluminum siding. I wanted to buy a house, but didn’t have the money. One day I’m going down the highway and see someone taking the roof off of a house that had a ‘for sale’ sign on it. Every day I’d drive by, and that house just sat there. I finally talked to the owner. He wanted the house off the property, so I bought it for $1 to make it tax deductible, and took the whole house apart. I took everything back to the house I was renting, figuring that if I got my own lumber, and bought a piece of property, I’d build my own house. Then I saw in the paper that an old Victorian apartment complex was being demolished. I went by and got some flooring from the owner, who asked if I had any experience taking anything apart. He asked if I could take apart a barn that was three stories high and 400 feet long. He gave me a year to take it down -- it took me eight weeks. I sold the lumber as fast as I was able to take it apart. This was my training to become a demolition contractor for almost 20 years. The biggest building I demolished was fourteen stories. Most of my competitors were “crunchers,” crane and ball operators, but the interest rates at that time were so high that people started rethinking the idea of demolishing perfectly sound structures. Instead, they moved towards gutting the buildings and putting in new interiors. They’re still doing this today. And that’s how I got so many jobs – I did it all by hand. I understood how to take apart different systems in a delicate manner. I learned a lot about being self-employed and hiring people and managing people. I tried to keep the jobs coming so my employees would have work and money for their families. It was a big confidence builder for me. There’s no room for error in those jobs, there were life and death situations. People falling was the biggest risk. We’d have to take out stairs and elevators and there were all sorts of crazy situations when someone could get seriously hurt or even die.
What is your job here?
Nothing in particular, a little bit of everything. I see myself as a “Caretaker.” I care about what I do. I I try to be a “jack of all trades, a master of none.” I like being pretty good at a lot of things, not just an expert at one thing. I walk around and see if something needs my attention. Stuff that needs cleaning, it shouts out “it’s my turn!” I get sidetracked because I’ll see something that needs my attention and I’ll get involved with a new project, then have to remember what I was working on.
How did you get the job?
I think, another strong belief of mine, over the years all these things I’ve gone through to save a little money for rent here and there, and my wrecking business, was like going to school. I learned a lot. All the things I’ve ever done have got me to this point. (Chef) Wilke and (President) Eric (Stromquist) know I like to keep busy, and they knew me from the other place we worked together. One day we came to get pizza across the street and I saw those guys and they told us about their new school. A couple days later my boss said Wilke called and wanted me to come to OCI for an interview. When I worked with those guys they were good to me. I came over to talk to them and they offered me a job. The application was really a formality; I just had to say “yes” or “no.” I was grateful at the offer. I took it as a compliment because they knew what kind of worker I am. It was the first time in my life I didn’t have to go begging for a job (and that’s what we do when we put on a suit and write a fancy letter and get all gussied up). I told them to give me a few days. I was concerned about making the change at my age, and it’s a good practice to sleep on big decisions anyways. But I agreed to come here.
What is your favorite thing about working at OCI?
The people. And that I don’t have to punch a time clock. Wilke lets me set my own hours. It goes according to need. And I like the variation of my job.
What is your least favorite?
The hardest part is getting up early in the morning. (Bobby arrives between 3:30 AM and 4 AM every morning). But there’s no other way for me to do the job right unless I come in a couple hours before anyone else.
What is the “Magic Closet”?
I don’t know! (laughs) I think Lori put that on there. It’s kind of a conversation piece. Our vendors come in and see it. The nickname is something one of the chefs saw in a movie. So for names, I’ve got “Robert,” “Bob,” “Bobby,” and now “Ricky Bobby.”
Do you get to know many students?
I’m a semi-outgoing person. I like people. But there’s so many of them, it seems like they’re just slipping through here. But I get to know some of them a little bit. Every now and then I throw them a story about how I notice the changes between their terms. I see the confidence growing. That’s not something you can put in your hand. You see it on their faces. There was one girl some time back who was having some kind of difficulty, and she really had to struggle to get a grip on things. Everybody liked her because she was persistent, but it was mentally challenging for her. I watched her each step of the way. The teacher would go over it a few times, and you’d see her get it, that accomplishment of mastering whatever point it was she was learning. I wasn’t quite sure she was going to make it, but she never gave up. It was a delight to see that fighting spirit. She never gave up.
If you had to pick an OCI chef to cook your meals for the rest of your life, who would it be?
Who would you least want?
Bikram! (laughing, as Chef Bikram walks up right behind him). He makes the garbanzo beans curry(chole). I love it. He’s the only one that I always get food from.
Whatever you are doing, you try to learn. Life, to me, is a classroom. I’ve developed an attitude of gratitude. I’m pretty well informed about a lot of the worldly things, world events, and I see what we have over here and what other people don’t have, and a lot of people don’t take a look in this country about how lucky we are. That’s why I don’t have this need to get rich or have a big mansion or car -- we all strive for those things at one time, but for me it’s the simple things that are the most precious – friends, family, good people to work with. Do the best you can with what you’ve got at the time.
What is your favorite food?
A nice salad.
Your whole being is a combination of a lot of things, your being, awareness, I read this book by a guy who was 103 years old, he started eating raw food at age 60, and he looked like he hadn’t aged at all. He had a sparkle in his eye. He said we should eat things that go forward, because we go forward.
What do you mean by “go forward”?
If you throw a piece of meat away, it decays, but a piece of fruit has a seed and it will grow a new plant….
But I also eat potato chips sometimes! (laughs)