After holding the position for 33 years and 10 months, Michael Wajer’s last day as Augustana’s HVAC technician was last Friday, Mar. 29.
Wajer said the growing campus and increased need for technology aren’t as simple anymore.
“The old pneumatics used to be a lot easier for me to do than it is this new electronic stuff,” Wajer said. “It’s still easy for me, but I mean, I’m getting up there to the age when things are changing quite a bit and it’s hard to keep up anymore, too.”
Wajer said his wife actually steered him towards the job in 1985. “She didn’t want me traveling anymore,” he said.
After about 5 years, he knew the campus “very, very well.” But, during his last month, Wajer said he was still learning.
“I’ve been here almost 34 years and I’m still learning yet,” Wajer said. “You never, ever quit learning. If you do you’re six feet under, I guess.”
Loren Koepsell, a close friend and assistant finance professor, said he will miss “simply the sheer amount of work that [Wajer] got done.”
“Any place that we had a shortage of staff, he could fill in and cover,” Koepsell said. “He was an HVAC guy, but he was also a plumber and an electrician.”
This is something that the new HVAC technician, Tom Adams, knows well.
“Mike did so much,” Adams said. “He handled all the generators. He handled all the locksmithing. He’s a one-of-a-kind guy; they don’t make a lot like him.”
Not only is Wajer efficient, he is also sustainability-focused. Koepsell recalled walking down to the plant building one morning and seeing Wajer rebuilding one of the boilers.
“We have two boilers that heat the entire campus, and he literally had one torn apart and rebuilt it from scratch,” Koepsell said.
Junior Trey Waldrop received multiple tours from Wajer during the Civitas 201: Reading Augustana course.
He said that as Wajer explained his job, he got the feeling that “it didn’t matter what time of day, if this thing happened, he had to be there to take care of it, and he would be.”
Wajer said his least favorite part of working for Augustana was all of the middle-of-the-night phone calls.
He said he and his wife both look forward to getting a good night’s sleep with his retirement.
Koepsell said Wajer also introduced a significant amount of technology to the university.
“He had all these sensors [set up],” Koepsell said. “He just knew when there were problems before everybody else.”
Adams said that the daunting thing about taking over Wajer’s job is that he will now be on-call all the time. Many of the controls can be adjusted via phone, “so technology’s been a huge help,” he said.
Wajer said his favorite thing about working at Augustana was the students.
“We used to have a work-study gal that we took under our wing,” Wajer said. “She was like a daughter to us. One day her car broke down, so I took her car up to the boiler room, and then I rebuilt her engine and put it back in for her.”
Reflecting on his time on campus, Wajer said he was saddened to retire but thought he was ready.
“All the years I’ve worked here I’ve lived, breathed, slept Augustana,” Wajer said. “My last couple years changed. I just gotta get away. Augustana was a big part of my life all those years, and I always loved what Augustana did for the students and what Augustana was about for many, many years.
“Once you know what Augustana is, you can understand what they do for different things. I just cared deeply for them all those years. I really thought a lot of Augustana. I still do quite a bit. Like I said, things are changing a little bit.”
In his retirement, Wajer plans to vacation in Colorado, since he’s only had one in his nearly 34-year run.
He said he also wants to help remodel houses for Sioux Falls Ministries.
“When my wife totally retires we wanna buy an RV and travel the United States.”
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