Kevin Rubbelke probably didn't know what he was getting himself into when he accepted a part-time job taking tickets at Roosevelt Park Zoo in 1982, but that job became a career that has turned Rubbelke into a true jack-of-all-trades.
Born and raised in Minot, Rubbelke graduated from Minot High School in 1974, part of the first graduating class of the current Magic City Campus.
"We graduated from there but the thing was the school, you know, wasn't complete. We went to classes, they were still working, installing lockers," Rubbelke said.
Dan Feldner/MDN •
Kevin Rubbelke has worked for the Minot Park District since 1982. Currently in the horticulture department, Rubbelke has done everything from spraying for mosquitoes and cutting grass to blowing snow and taking care of animals at the zoo during his career.
After high school he attended Minot State College, as it was known back then, to pursue a bachelor of science degree in biology with minors in criminal justice and economics.
Rubbelke was close to graduation when he moved to Williston to work as an assistant manager at two hotels under the same ownership during the oil boom in 1979. After less than a year, however, his father had a heart attack and Rubbelke moved back to Minot. While finishing up his degree at Minot State College, he got a part-time job taking tickets at Roosevelt Park Zoo in 1982.
When a full-time opening became available in 1984, Rubbelke was asked to apply and eventually got the job as a zoo keeper. While working with the animals at the zoo was right up Rubbelke's alley, it wasn't the original reason he had gone after a biology degree.
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"I had been trying to get on at the Game and Fish Department," he said. "When I went to college I kind of had that in mind, with criminal justice I was thinking I could someday be a game warden or something."
Twice Rubbelke had taken the test in Bismarck to work for the Game and Fish Department, but the odds weren't favorable as a multitude of people were competing for very few openings.
"It's unreal how many people go down there. The one day I went there was hundreds of us taking the test," he said. "Someone retired and there'd be that opening, and everybody in the state with interest would apply. It's pretty tough."
While Rubbelke started out taking care of animals in the children's zoo, it wasn't long before he was helping out wherever he was needed.
"You learned the other people's areas, you'd learn how to clean their areas, like the feline house, how to go about cleaning the inside of the cages, the outside, and also on how to feed the primates and all of the other hoof stock in the main zoo," he said.
After 14 1/2 years as a zoo keeper, Rubbelke accepted a position in the horticulture department, which is when his workload really started to get varied. Since he would now be handling chemicals, there were three tests Rubbelke took and passed to become certified to use pesticides.
No longer confined to the zoo, Rubbelke finds himself all over town at the various parks and sports fields fogging for mosquitoes when it isn't too windy, spraying for dandelions and other weeds, planting flowers, fertilizing turf, watering grass and trying to control gophers.
One of the jobs that has become a bit more challenging over the years is watering the fields at the Optimist Soccer Complex. Massive sprinklers with 300-foot hoses are used to cover as much area as possible, but as more and more housing was built in the area, less and less water became available for the sprinklers.
"Years ago we could water with three of them, we had enough (water) pressure, say 10 1/2 years ago," he said. "About six years ago I could only use two sprinklers, and four years ago I could only use one."
While watering the soccer fields has become a bit more time consuming, Rubbelke still loves doing it, and has no qualms with getting up at 4 a.m. so the fields can be dry by the time afternoon practices start.
Once the snow starts falling in earnest, as it did this past winter, Rubbelke moves over to the maintenance shop to do just about anything that needs doing.
"They'll send me out with the different workers that are underneath (Randy Burckhard, maintenance superintendent). I might be helping the welder, one guy's a welder/carpenter, a plumber, I might be helping fix fence, fix pens in the zoo," Rubbelke said. "We've done sheetrocking at the (Souris Valley) Golf Course, out at Maysa (Arena), we did remodeling and stuff out there with sheetrocking and painting. We might be out working on playground equipment in the different parks."
Snow removal was obviously a big part of Rubbelke's job description this past winter, as was helping to flood the outdoor ice rinks, while the spring saw him helping to sandbag at the golf course to save it from flooding.
When he's not working, Rubbelke makes sure to spend some of his time helping others. His brother Ross has been a volunteer mentor with Companions for Children for more than 30 years, and Rubbelke has spent much of his own time helping out at various events for the organization.
"Over the years they would always have a float for the State Fair parade," he said. "We'd usually borrow a trailer, and then we'd get some straw bales and set them on there, we'd build a sign for it and put in the middle, and we'd paint up the sign (to say) Companions for Children."
He helps at other events during the year such as spaghetti feeds, silent auctions, and most recently a charity golf tournament at Wildwood Country Club a few weeks ago.
"This year I golfed with my brother Ross, my brother Paul and my brother Paul's son. It was just a good time, you know. ... It was funny because you could buy these mulligans and use them on the holes. So I said I'll buy 12 of those mulligans, and they're going, 'Twelve?' And I said, 'I'm not a golfer,' and we used every one of them," Rubbelke said with a laugh.
He also spends time tutoring two young nieces in math, cleans out his closets several times a year to donate clothes to the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, and is a regular blood donor at United Blood Services.
"I'm up to 131 (pints donated) right now. ... I guess they break down the one pint, it can go to three different people, so it's like you're helping three people," Rubbelke said.
Even though Rubbelke didn't achieve his goal of working for the Game and Fish Department, he has no regrets about where his career took him. Every day he wakes up to a job he loves, with his duties literally changing depending on the weather.
"I've been with the park district (full-time) for 25 years, you know, you just kept putting in more years (because) you enjoy the work," he said.