TORRINGTON – When a public institution like Eastern Wyoming College is celebrating 70 years in existence, chances are its presence has touched the lives of many, if not all, residents in the surrounding community. In one case, a longtime employee has received a check from every president in EWC’s history.
Ed Kroenlein was born and raised in Torrington. He graduated from Torrington High School in 1968 and attended EWC for business before joining the U.S. Army National Guard during the Vietnam War.
“The story actually starts clear back in the early ‘60s,” Kroenlein said. “When I was in seventh grade, I got a job as a custodial helper in the Pioneer Grade School building. Ludwig Pukitis was the custodian I worked for. I swept, and did general custodial work.”
Soon, through his connection with Pukitis – who also cleaned the college – Kroenlein began doing custodial work at EWC in the summer, in addition to two hours after school every day and five hours each Saturday morning.
“I got my first check from the college in 1963,” he said. At that time, Albert C. Conger was serving as president.
Some of Kroenlein’s more memorable duties include scraping all of the paint off a bathtub in the art department’s bathroom, and removing wax off the floors with putty knives, just to put more down and start the process again.
“It was a good job and taught me good work ethic,” Kroenlein said. “(Pukitis) was a good teacher.”
Kroenlein worked for the Goshen County School District through the summer after his graduation in 1968, at which point the college had moved to the Tebbet Building on the current campus.
“Mr. Pukitis had retired from the school district and was the head custodian at the college,” Kroenlein recalled. “When I started attending EWC, I automatically had a job. As I remember, I’ve never filled out an application to work at the college.”
Prior to leaving for basic training, Kroenlein worked as a custodial helper at the college for three semesters.
“When I came back, I went up to college to visit (Pukitis), and as I was leaving, Charles Rogers, then-president of the college, followed me outside and said they were hiring a new custodian because of the new dormitory and (asked if I) would like a job,” Kroenlein said. “I started full-time on Sept. 10, 1970. I worked for Mr. Pukitis for another nine years. Then, he retired, and I was appointed Mr. Pukitis’ job – head custodian.”
As the college continued to grow – and subsequently Kroenlein’s responsibilities – his job title changed from head custodian to Superintendent of Building and Grounds to eventually, Director of Physical Plant.
Kroenlein worked at the college full-time for nearly 36 years, but even after retirement, he returned to his old stomping grounds.
“I was retired for about nine years, and then they had an opening to work in the fitness center,” Kroenlein said. “They asked if I would be interested, and my wife, Dixie Kroenlein, senior administrative assistant for the information center, encouraged me to come up there. I started working 15 hours a week – that was about three years ago, in 2015.
“I’ve received a check under the administration of every president from Mr. Conger to present (Dr. Lesley Travers),” Kroenlein added. “I did not work under Dr. (Tom) Armstrong, but did receive retirement checks while he was president.”
As might be expected, Kroenlein has plenty of memories surrounding EWC, including concrete accomplishments and lasting legacies.
“The physical plant building was built almost completely by employees,” he said. “It was in the 1970s. We did it all after work. We all volunteered to help, everybody from the faculty and administration.
“We did a lot of our own sidewalks and actually poured, did part of the driveway they just replaced this summer ourselves,” Kroenlein continued. “It was a big do-it-yourself operation back in the ‘70s and ’80s – we had to do what we could to make it work.
“One of lasting things up at the college, the trees that surround the edge of the front parking lot, Mr. Pukitis and I dug those trees up at the Christmas tree farm when they were just rootstock. They donated the trees, and we planted them. It’s just nice to see them when you come into the college – these big trees that were only two-foot tall when they were planted.”
Most of all, Kroenlein said he remembers the people. Especially the individuals in the Physical Plant Department, like Shelby Martindale, Eme Escamilla, Chuck Kenyon, Pat Eilert, Don Snyder, and the dedicated custodial staff.
“My dad passed away when I I had only worked at the college about two years, and Mr. Rogers and (Guido) Smith and Bob Thomas, Mr. Pukitis, everybody, they kind of guided me,” he said. “I was 20 when I started working full-time. There was just a really great group of people. In the early years, there weren’t many of us, and we were like a family.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, Mr. Rogers gave me three days detention and then ended up giving me a job that lasted me my whole adult life,” Kroenlein said. “That was the only time I had detention my whole life – he was the assistant principal at the high school.
“Before I retired, or just as I was retiring, I ran into Mr. Rogers. We were visiting, and I told him I was going to retire and he told me I had done a great job. That meant the most to me of anything.
“It’s kind of neat being at the fitness center now. I get to see a lot of the retirees I worked with.”
Kroenlein said many of the individuals he worked with stayed at the college, or returned to EWC, throughout the years.
“The interesting thing about the place is people came to work there and, for the most part they didn’t leave. There’s a number of faculty and staff and administrators (who spent several decades there). For some reason, it draws a lot of us back in.”