Timing is everything, as reprographics technician II Joe Walter can tell you.
Nearly six years ago he was suddenly laid off from his job in the print industry. That same day, someone he knew came into his workplace and suggested he apply for a job at UNLV. Less than two weeks later he was on the job at UNLV in what then was known as reprographics, now Integrated Graphic Services. And now, when so many people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, “the bindery guy in the print shop” as he calls himself, counts himself fortunate not only to have a job but also one he truly enjoys.
Tell us more about how you came to UNLV.
I was in the printing group at United Health Group. It was my mom’s birthday. I went to lunch with her. When I got back, the shop manager said we are meeting in the lunchroom. I was there just short of 22 years. They handed me a letter (telling me I was being laid off) — everybody else, too. Someone I knew came into the shop that very afternoon and I said, “Who is looking for a bindery man?” He said they would be posting an ad here at UNLV. I watched for it and I applied. I hit it off with Donna McAleer (now director of publications emerita) right away. I got a phone call asking when I could start. I was laid off May 5. I started here on May 11. I also had 22 weeks of severance and vacation pay.
If that guy hadn’t told me about the UNLV job, I probably wouldn’t have ever looked here, although I had been a UNLV basketball fan since I was in high school in Nebraska. I wouldn’t have expected an opening (at UNLV). People don’t leave these jobs.
I had thought that when I was laid off I was going to go to Utah and cut trees and clean up my land near Navajo Lake. You can just sit back and relax there. I love it. We go into town and have pizza. We’re really wild.
What are your general job duties?
Cutting, folding, booklet making — whatever is needed to finish the job, that is what I do.
Why do you stay at UNLV?
I feel I am just damn lucky to be here with so many people losing their jobs. The printing industry in this town is just in horrible shape right now. … The hours here are right. The days are right. I don’t know anywhere that would be better. Being from Nebraska, I’ve got that Midwest goofy thing that I feel I need to be working every day.
How is it different working during the pandemic?
We have had one problem. We’ll get people ordering material but then they are not here to receive it. That’s made it a little more difficult. We have to play phone tag to get departments to have someone there to receive deliveries. For instance, one day we took five jobs out but only could deliver two.
Also, we’ve had a lighter quantity of work. Some of our bread-and-butter people, like Fine Arts, haven’t had much for us at all.
When the university decides to go back full bore, we are going to get slammed.
Tell us about growing up in Nebraska.
I worked for my dad in high school on big equipment. We did a lot of soil conservation work. Friday nights were busy in high school with football and dates. My dad would let me sleep in on Saturdays as long as I had come home at a reasonable hour. Otherwise, I had to start work at 7. I would hang with my girlfriend and buddies and come in late. He seemed to know if I had stayed out too late and he would come in and wake me up to go to work. My mom finally told me what he was doing. He would go out and feel the hood of my pickup on Saturday mornings! If it was still warm he would make me get up to work. I started leaving my pickup home and riding with someone else on Friday nights.
A book, movie, TV show, or podcast to recommend?
An ideal vacation…
I think the one my wife and I took for my 40th. We have a real good friend who lives in Corvallis (Oregon). Other than seeing our friend, we had no set plans. We drove up by Tahoe and Shasta and Eugene. We had no time frame. No “We have to be here or there at a certain time.” We stopped in California at Gualala and San Simeon. You’ve got plenty of time to be uptight. This was the opposite of that.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
People who don’t know me might be surprised that I like to cook. Guys think they can cook if they can turn on a grill. I learned because I didn’t want to starve! I bake and all kinds of things. My zucchini bread is my favorite thing to bake. I garden. At the end of the season, I had five big zucchinis. My wife ground them up. We froze them and now I use it for baking.
Also, I played the trumpet in high school. My grandfather was a lead trumpet player for Lawrence Welk when he played the music halls. I still have (the trumpet) somewhere.
Advice you would give your younger self
I probably would have stayed in sports longer. I probably would have gone to that second Cincinnati Reds tryout. I didn’t do well with the Reds at 16, so I didn’t go the next year when they sent me a letter. Also, I had a walk-on letter to play University of Nebraska football but when my dad passed, that threw a monkey wrench in that. When Dad died it changed the complexion of what was expected of me. He died two months to the day after I graduated from high school. My mom needed me. We had all that big equipment.
But, I’m not one of those people who sit on a barstool and tells stories about what I could have been. I’m pretty content. Now that the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, my bucket list is getting pretty short.