Longtime Republic Services employee Allen Juker was nominated for the National Waste and Recycling Association’s Driver of the Year award along with 14 others nationwide.

Juker started his career at Republic in 1999 in Cleveland in the back of a garbage truck. After getting his commercial driver’s license, Juker took over the rear loader. He would go on to help groom many of Republic’s greatest pilots over the years, said Mike Fedor, Republic Services operations supervisor for Cleveland.

“Having only had one preventable incident in his first year as a rookie, he learned from that mistake and has kept safety close to his heart ever since,” Fedor said. “Having seen and driven every route we’ve taken over the years, he’s carried his carefree, fun, and loving demeanor to every county in northeast Ohio.”

Eventually, after mastering his craft and moving on to the first automated curottos in Boston Heights and Hudson, Juker fell into his final destination – Willoughby Hills.

“When Juker received a map of the last acquisition in Willoughby Hills 12 years ago, he picked up a van on a Saturday and drove around, learning his route,” Fedor said. “The rest is history, from his safety record to his dealings with the towns of Willoughby Hills and Bratenahl. His career has become one of storybooks.

The National Waste and Recycling Association’s Driver of the Year awards recognize drivers who operate their trucks safely, maintain a superior performance record, and improve overall safety and industry image. The winner is expected to be announced this spring or summer.

In addition to that honor, Republic received a letter from Willoughby Hills in February announcing that the city was awarding Juker its “Mayor’s Special Recognition” commemorative coin for appreciation of his work in the city.

“I’m blown away. I don’t put myself in this place. I just drive a garbage truck and do my job,” Juker said.

A Willoughby Hills resident hugging Allen Juker, a longtime Republic Service driver who was nominated for Driver of the Year. (Submitted)

Juker has customers who know what time he hits the streets and has asked customers to provide frozen water or a Pepsi in a cooler on hot days, he said.

“I’ve had people cook lunches, take me out for lunch, and some relationships have turned into friendships over the years,” he said. “I’m a big animal lover and when I see dogs out I throw them a dog biscuit from the truck. I’ve had dogs run up to my truck and sit on my doorstep, and wait for me to give them a cookie. It’s crazy.”

Whether it’s hot or cold at work, Juker tries to make the most of his responsibilities as a driver for Republic.

“You just have to do your thing. In my opinion, they pay me to practice and listen to music all day, and smash stuff,” he said. “You are in your truck and you are leaving. It’s a good time.

Fedor noted that 20 years and 10 days after Juker’s debut date, Republic was fortunate to welcome his son, Drew, to the team.

“An exact replica of Juker’s work ethic and happy attitude, Drew is the future and I look forward to submitting a nomination for him when he turns 22,” Fedor said.

When Juker’s son started, it was scary because Juker said he always saw a little kid driving.

“I knew he would have no problem doing it because he’s like a mini-me,” he said. “We are best friends and he loves it. I am very proud of him.

Juker said he never thought of being a garbage man.

“I went to welding school and was a welder for years,” he said. “I got tired of getting burned. My brother, John, was actually a garbage collector probably five or ten years before me. He got me the job. That’s what brought me here and here I am 20 years later. That’s what I was supposed to do.

The industry has changed over the years and is completely different than it was with the automated trucks in place, Juker said. If someone is not afraid to work, wants to stay active and not sit behind a desk all day, that’s the job for them, he added.

“It gives you a sense of accomplishment and responsibility,” he said. “When you’re in that truck, you’re pretty much your own boss. I live about an hour away from my roads and it’s a whole other world. It keeps you active and it’s the best diet there is. You get out of the truck 1,000 times a day and you have no problem sleeping at night.

Although a garbage man may feel like he’s just passing the day, all eyes are on him, Juker said.

“Not to take away the responsibility or the dangers, but it means the world,” he said. “We are taught to keep the children away. If I interact with them, I know where they are at and it makes their day. It’s unreal.