Kurt Durham’s brother-in-law may have brought him to the District, but the familylike atmosphere at the District’s Sarasota Service Office keeps him here.
In 1987, Jack MacDonald, who used to work in the District’s Regional Observation and Monitor-Well Program, called Durham and told him the District “was looking for bodies.” He applied even though he didn’t know anything about being a field technician.
“When I started I was green as grass,” said Durham, senior field technician in the Sarasota Regulation Department. “I learned everything on the job.”
One of the first skills he learned on the job was how to handle difficult people. On his first day alone in the field, he was sent to a house to check on a well. After calling the resident and making an appointment, Durham arrived at the man’s house and was greeted with a double-barreled shotgun. Although the property owner had agreed to the appointment, the man held Durham at gunpoint and asked him to leave.
So what did Durham do? He left the premises and then called the police so he could go back to the site with an escort. With the assistance of the police, Durham was able to check the well and continue on to his next appointment.
On that day, Durham’s ability to handle himself in a difficult situation came in handy, but his friendly, down-to-earth personality is probably what he is best known for in the community.
“During his years at the District, Kurt has developed many contacts and enduring relationships with members of the public,” said Cheryl Johnson, field service supervisor. “His ‘tell it like it is’ style has gained him much trust and credibility with some members of the public who might otherwise question the District’s mission.”
As a senior field technician, Durham primarily works with well construction and water use issues, inspecting grouting and the plugging of wells, conducting random inspections to ensure the wells are being properly constructed and inspecting sites to make sure proper setbacks will be maintained for public supply wells.
“Kurt works closely with the well drilling contractors, who frequently rely upon him to provide recommendations and identify solutions to well drilling problems when they arise,” said Johnson. “Because of his expertise and approachable demeanor, Kurt is able to work with the contractors to ensure well construction standards are met, thus reducing the number of compliance cases that need to be initiated.”
Durham is also known at the District for making friendly bets on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with David Moore, the District’s executive director, and for the charity work he and Mitch Malone, senior field technician, became involved with after Hurricane Charley.
The good-natured wager concerning the Buccaneers’ winning record was made last fall and involves the loser cooking Moore’s “Frogmore Stew” for the winner. Because the Buccaneers did not win 10 games, Moore owes Durham and Malone a homemade lunch.
In addition to having fun with the executive director, Durham and Malone also give back to the community.
“Mitch and I became involved with the Arcadia Center for the Needy after Hurricane Charley,” said Durham. “After working 12 to 14 hours a day for a week helping the people in Arcadia, we were looking for a place where we could bring what our coworkers had donated.”
The Arcadia Center of the Needy helps people in every situation. They assist farm workers, the homeless, people who have lost their homes to fire and more. Each day the center feeds between 70 and 100 people.
“We asked the staff at the Sarasota Service Office to bring us their stuff they want to get rid of,” said Durham. “It grew from there. Mitch thought we should talk to the Employee Committee about supporting the center and they agreed. That’s when all the other offices began helping out, especially with the food drives.”
More than three years later, the pair continues to make regular visits to the center, dropping off the items donated by District staff.
Before coming to work for the District, Durham held a variety of jobs. He even tried out for the Cincinnati Reds in 1975 and worked at a plant that manufactured springs. And while he didn’t expect to be at the District this long, it looks like he’s made quite an impression.