Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The face of the North Cascades Highway

By Andrea E. Petrich

For many, Don Becker is the face of SR 20's North Cascades Highway and that's not surprising. When Don was first hired back in 1979 he was strictly a seasonal guy – working with our winter crews until 1986 when he was hired full time out of our Brewster maintenance shop. After 10 years in Brewster and a six-month stop in Okanogan, it was October 1997 when he was promoted to the lead tech position in Twisp and started overseeing our annual opening of the North Cascades Highway opening.

The rest is 21 years of history and hard work – lots and lots of hard work.

For the past 14 years, Don has been a maintenance supervisor and spends each day making sure his crews are staying safe while they do all the work we need done – including clearing SR 20 as quickly as possible each season.
Don chats with a group of bicyclists making the trip through the closed seasonal section before opening in 2009.

"I love my job because of the people I have had the pleasure of working with and for," Don said. "They have made my job very successful and rewarding."

Of course, there are members of the public too, including the late Tootsie Clark, who he met for the first time in 1997. While Tootsie, a Marblemount business owner, and her gang would wait for the team to open the western gate each season, Don was often swinging open the eastern gate. The two would then connect for one of Tootsie's famous cinnamon rolls and photos each year somewhere in between.
Don, Tootsie and Granny Winthrop at the top of Washington Pass following gate opening in 2012.

At this year's opening of the North Cascades Highway – the first since Tootsie passed away - Jurene Brooks, Tootsie's granddaughter, expressed how much her grandmother appreciated Don and all the crews who worked so hard to open the highway and get summer traffic flowing again for businesses on both sides of the mountain.
Don, Tootsie, Granny Wintrop and members of the SR 20 clearing team –
Deed Fink and Jason Newman – at Washington Pass in 2015.

The winter snows melt away into the summer months, presenting Don and his crew with new challenges including getting potholes filled, guardrail replaced, grass mowed, signs cleaned up and winter equipment all ready for the upcoming snowy season. There's always plenty to do, and plenty of work zones, so please be aware, alert and cautious!
Don and Connie Becker have
 been married for 43 years.

When he isn't working to clear and maintain our roads, Don does plenty to give back to our community. He's been on the Brewster school board for 29 years, spent 25 years as a volunteer firefighter – 10 of those as Brewster Fire Chief – and officiates football, basketball and umpires softball.

Don and his wife, Connie have been married for 43 years and have four kids and eight grandkids. And they all want him to arrive home safely each day.

So please remember, when you see an orange vest on the side of the road clearing snow this winter or rebuilding guardrail this summer, it might be Don out there. Or a member of his crew. Or any other road worker. Under those vests and hard hats they are real people with hobbies, interests, plans and, most importantly, friends and families. And they all want to stay safe. Please do your part by staying alert, slowing down, giving them space and being patient.
Don works hard to keep our highways safe and the North Cascades Highway team needs him to help clear and swing gates open next season. And more importantly, those eight grandkids need their grandpa too.
Don Becker, got help from Darrell and Marlene Ford of Mazama to swing open The Silver Star gate on Highway 20, signaling the opening of the North Cascades Highway in 2016. The Fords, who have lived in the Methow Valley since 1962 (10 years before the highway across the Cascades opened), were first in the westbound line of trucks and cars at the gate. Photo courtesy Methow Valley News