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'Mr. Sunshine' set to retire

Mark Marthaler stands surrounded by the trucks and plows at the Becker County Highway Department maintenance shop, where he has spent the past 31 years working to keep the county's fleet of highway equipment in tip-top shape. He plans to retire from his position as head mechanic on Feb. 28. Vicki Gerdes/Tribune

He may not be known for his sunny disposition -- his nickname of 'Mr. Sunshine' is an affectionate tribute to his gruff, man-of-few-words persona -- but Mark Marthaler has nothing but good things to say about his colleagues at the Becker County Highway Department, where he has worked as a mechanic for the past 31 years.

"I'll miss the guys here," says Marthaler, who will be retiring as head mechanic on Feb. 28.

"They call me grumpy sometimes, but I always got along with them really good."

He adds that it's been a privilege to work with such a good crew over the years, even though the work itself hasn't always been pleasurable.

"I've laid in snowbanks underneath trucks, fixing them in 30 below weather, many times," he said.

Marthaler is also the resident expert on running the chip spreader on sealcoating projects during summer road construction season.

The chip spreader, he explains, is the machine that distributes the layer of chipped rock onto a paved road after the oily seal coat has been spread on it, to help preserve the road surface and prolong the need for repaving for as long as possible.

He's also worked on fixing everything from chainsaws to pay loaders to snowplows.

"I've enjoyed the variety," he says. "But now being out there in the sun for 10-12 hours in the summer gets hard -- I can't take the heat like I used to, and the cold bothers me a little more."

The work has also been pretty hard on his feet.

"My feet are falling apart," Marthaler says. "I've had (foot) surgery a few times, for a fused joint on my toe, and a couple of bone spurs that I've had removed."

Which is a big part of the reason why he's decided it's time to find a job that's "a little less stressful" on both mind and body.

"I am almost 62 years old," Marthaler says, adding that his birthday is Feb. 16.

"I'm not completely retiring. I'm still going to find another part-time job, it's just not going to be as a mechanic, or anything that requires steel-toed shoes."

Despite the wear and tear the job has placed on his feet, however, Marthaler has continued to walk to work each day from the home he shares with wife, Vicki, on Lake Avenue in Detroit Lakes -- "taking steady strides and swinging his lunch cooler," as Vicki puts it.

"I've walked to work every day since I started here, over 95 percent of the time," he says, "even in snowstorms and 100-degree weather. It's about a mile away."

Asked why he prefers to pound the pavement instead of driving the 12 blocks back and forth to work, Marthaler says simply, "I don't like parking my pickup outside in the weather, so I just leave it in my garage most of the time."

Not that it's always been easy to maintain that practice.

Marthaler remembers one particularly bad winter, back in 1996-97, when he was "out running a snowblower on the front end of a payloader" almost every day.

"As fast as we'd get (the snow) blown out, we'd have to turn around and start over," he recalls.

"I don't remember how many weeks the (snowplow) drivers went without a day off. It seemed like we got a storm every two or three days."

That's the kind of work Marthaler says he won't miss at all.

"I walked through snow up to my hips getting to work that winter," he adds.

"I was ready to move south after that."

But Mark and Vicki Marthaler have continued to make their home in Minnesota for their entire married life (the couple will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary in March), and 36 of those years have been spent in Detroit Lakes.

Though they raised their two sons, Anthony ("Tony") and Alexander ("Andy") in Detroit Lakes, neither one of them has made their home here.

Tony lives in Essex Junction, Vermont, with his wife Laura and their 10-month-old daughter, while Andy and his wife Tanya live in Asheville, N.C.

"We try to get out to see them at least once a year," Marthaler says -- though the visits back and forth were a little more frequent leading up to the birth of their first grandchild.

Hopefully, they might be able to make those visits a little more frequent now, though Marthaler hasn't really decided on his post-retirement occupation.

"It depends on what type of part-time job I get," he says.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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