When he started college in the early 1960s, Steve Waltman thought he’d eventually end up practicing medicine. But after a semester that resulted in a 0.5 grade-point average, he was politely asked to leave Chadron State College.
Today, he holds a master’s degree, has taught part-time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and has become a fixer of — and a fixture at — UNL’s Nebraska Union.
And after more than three decades on the job, the union’s longtime maintenance manager will leave campus, this time on his own terms. He’s retiring.
His final day at UNL is Oct. 31. On Wednesday, his friends and co-workers gathered at a reception in the Union to wish him good luck.
Waltman, 66, said he’s always enjoyed being a “Mr. Fix–It.” After all, it’s in his blood: Growing up, he watched his father perform odd jobs around the house. One of his grandfathers was a blacksmith. The other owned a salvage yard.
“It was always kind of in me,” Waltman said. “When I went to college, I was supposed to be a doctor, but it just wasn’t what I wanted.”
So, while living in Grand Island, he and his wife Mary got the itch to move. Mary wanted to be close to her family in Omaha, but not necessarily live there. Lincoln, they figured, was their best option.
After a job with a small construction company fell through, Waltman applied for jobs at UNL. At first, he was hired on the loading dock at the old Scientific Stores. Shortly after, he saw a maintenance opening in the Athletic Department that he thought better fit his experience.
“A little over a year later, a position opened up at the union,” he said.
The rest is history.
“I’ve been here for the last 33-plus years,” Waltman said. “It was sort of an opportunity came and I took it.” Charlie Francis, the director of Nebraska Unions, said he and all of Waltman’s co-workers are glad Waltman took that opportunity. Waltman is a crucial part of the Nebraska Union’s day-to-day operations, Francis said.
“He’s very willing to help out wherever it’s needed and I think the number of lives Steve has touched with the work he does in the union, most people don’t realize that,” Francis said.
“There’s 30-plus years of knowledge that he has, that is going to take us a long time to get to a point where we’re as comfortable after he retires.”
That knowledge isn’t confined to the inner workings of one of UNL’s biggest buildings. At the beginning of his career, Waltman took classes toward a bachelor’s of science, which he completed in 1996. He’ll proudly tell you he graduated with a 3.74 GPA – an average that included that bruising 0.5 semester.
He didn’t stop there – he completed his master’s degree in 2000. Throughout his graduate career, Waltman taught industrial education classes for eight years and then taught Power and Energy Principles of Construction from 2006 to 2010.
Waltman said he does miss interacting with students from his classes.
“You never realize how involved they become with you and you with them,” he said.
In the last class Waltman taught, he had students build a shed in his yard at home and students were able to meet his family, including Mary. When Mary died in 2011, he realized how important the young scholars were to him, and he to them. Many came to her memorial service.
“That was great,” he said.
Teaching industrial education classes part-time again might be an option in his retirement, he said. In the short term, traveling and restoring are at the forefront of his retirement plans.
Refurbishing a 1951 Studebaker truck is high on the list. The vintage trucks have always been among Waltman’s favorites; in fact, his dad often joked that Waltman was almost born in one when a snowstorm nearly prevented his mother from getting to the hospital. Waltman also restored two others in the past with the help of his children — one of which he gave to his daughter on her 25th birthday.
He’s also planning a trip around the country on his Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 motorcycle.
“It’s been over 50 years since I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and I’ve never seen the pier at Santa Monica, so I’m going to go do some of that,” he said.
Waltman plans to stop and see family on the way, including his four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and of course, Mary, at a cemetery in Brooks, Iowa.
But on Nov. 1, when his internal alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m., he’s decided he’s not going to get up right away.
“It’ll be strange, but it’ll be nice,” he said.