This month, with our profile on Mike Perkins, we continue our occasional series profiling Mid-county community builders who give our area character by lending us some of theirs. Their decades-long work at hundreds of businesses and government agencies in east Portland builds our area’s identity. Their competent, professional and reliable presence radiates confidence in not only the entity they work for but also the community.
Who are they?
They are key employees who have for years performed their jobs efficiently and remarkably well. They enjoy and take pride in their work, care about the people they serve and are loyal to the people who employ them. These community builders usually live in Mid-county or near their place of work, and they are mostly native Portlanders.
What do they do?
They prepare and serve us food in restaurants; deliver our mail; check our groceries; do our banking; minister to our spirits; schedule our appointments; do our taxes; repair and maintain our homes, streets and cars; build our homes; protect us; haul our garbage; grow our food; sell us myriad necessities and teach our children.
If you know someone who fits this description, share his or her story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 503-287-8904.
This month’s community builder is 23-year garbage industry veteran Mike Perkins. As a driver with Heiberg Garbage and Recycling (HGR)—formerly known as Argay Disposal—Perkins patrols our neighborhoods, diligently toting away our unwanted household waste.
It’s a dirty job, but he enjoys it
Garbage truck driver might not be a profession normally found on lists of what kids want to do when they grow up, but Perkins says that it was something that he thought about as early as high school. “I don’t know if this job was something people thought was cool, but it was something I was interested in. I remember watching the garbage trucks go by when I was younger and I was excited about it. It just looked fun,” he says.
Perkins is an area native, born and raised in the Portland Metro area, and he’s not the only member of his family to stay close to home. His mother and father, who are retired, still reside in Gresham along with one of his two sisters. He also has a brother who lives in Troutdale and a sister in Damascus.
Mike wasn’t completely certain where he wanted life to take him when he graduated from Gresham High School, but he decided the best course of action was to get into the workforce and see what appealed to him. At the time, his brother, who was working with Oregon Asphalt, was able to secure him a position with the company. Mike stayed for seven years doing manual labor and driving. However, it didn’t take long for Perkins to realize that the position might not be a good fit. “The problem was that in the winter you’d get laid off, and I was looking for something more consistent,” he explains. “I needed something year-round to keep me going, and I started thinking garbage is always going to be here.”
During his time working with Oregon Asphalt, Perkins met a few people who worked with Gresham Sanitary that were more than happy to help him get his foot in the door. “They were nice enough to let me borrow one of their trucks to learn the ropes and get my commercial driving license, which was great,” he recalls. “That was in the ’90s, and now it’s been about 23 years of driving and using my body.”
In 1995, Perkins went to work for Argay Disposal, operated by Cereghino Hauling. When the owners of the company, Richard and Barbara “Babs” Cereghino, decided to retire and sold the company to HGR, he stayed on to work with the new team, and he says that he doesn’t see himself leaving for at least another 10 years if he can help it. “The years go by fast, you know? I started this job when I was a kid and before you know it, you’re 20 years in. I’m certainly not going to change careers now. I don’t feel stuck in it, though. I enjoy my coworkers, and it’s fun doing what I do,” Perkins says, with a note of genuine contentment in his voice.
Doing what he loves
It’s rare to find a person who truly loves their job, especially when it’s in a public service industry. However, one doesn’t need to speak with Perkins for long to realize that he’s really found a career that fits like a glove, and he knows it. Perkins says that part of his job that he loves the most is probably his schedule, and he can’t imagine himself battling through traffic every day to get to the typical nine-to-five job. “I’m an early riser and have never been much of a night owl, so the hours that I’m able to keep are great,” he explains. “I’m able to start early and be done with my day early, which leaves me the rest of the afternoon to myself. It’s also great because I never really have to deal with heavy traffic. I go in early before most people are out and go out on my route, which is mostly just residential areas, and by the time I’m off, the highways have cleared up again. I honestly can’t imagine having to sit in traffic every day. I’d go crazy.” He also loves to play golf, and it isn’t uncommon for him to finish out a shift and hit the course for a few hours in the afternoon, which he thoroughly enjoys.
When asked what his least favorite part of the job is, his answer surprisingly isn’t anything to do with the garbage, or its odor, but how other drivers treat him when he’s in the truck. “It drives me crazy when cars cut us off, then slam on their brakes to turn into a parking lot not far up the road anyway,” he explains with a chuckle. “It happens more often than you’d think, and I can always see it coming. You see them in the rearview mirror getting impatient that we’re going so slowly, and they just zoom past.”
Perkins says that other than aggressive drivers, the only thing he would change about the job is the way that the city introduced their organics program, because as he sees it, every-other-week garbage service just doesn’t really work. In Clackamas County, where he lives, the garbage is still picked up every week, but since Portland opted to stagger the pickup of different types of waste, customers were forced to invest in larger cans, which has had more negative effects than positive ones. “It was a tough economy when they started the program, and when they switched over people had to increase their can size, which also increased their bills,” Perkins explains. “Sure, they’re saving space in the landfill, which is fine, but now we have to do dump runs twice per day as well, which burns more fuel. It’s like a yin-yang. If you don’t have one, you just have the other.”
Making an impression
Perkins is also a people person, and he finds pleasure in being able to get to know some of the customers he serves. “I’ve been driving the same route for 22 years, so I get to interact with some of the people, and I like to stop and talk with them from time to time,” he says. “I mostly chat with them as they pass by on a walk or jog, or I see some of them that pay for yard service when I take their cans back up to the house. There are even a few older ladies I’ve gotten to know that don’t have yard service anymore, but I take their cans back to the garage for them so they don’t have to come down and get them.” Perkins says that he’s also made a few good golf friends from his route that he can talk about the sport with, and he’s even been known to play with them from time to time.
With garbage truck technology advancing and leading to more fully automated vehicles out on routes, Perkins says that the ability to interact with customers has dwindled slightly over the years and will likely continue to decline in the future. “It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, though,” he remarks. “It’s just a sign of the times, really. At the moment, I’m still in a semiautomatic vehicle, so I still get out of the truck to pick up the can and dump it into the truck at each stop.”
Although Perkins doesn’t have a huge number of opportunities to interact with his customers, he tends to make a good impression when he does, as evidenced by letters from customers the HGR office has received. Longtime customer Cheryl Wilson recalls a Thanksgiving not long ago when she confused the garbage schedule and had the wrong can out on the curb for pickup and had also advised some of her neighbors to do the same. By the time she heard the truck, it had already passed, but she was able to speak with another carrier in the neighborhood to let them know and Perkins, who had already made it a few blocks further down the street, circled back to retrieve the correct can from Wilson and her neighbors. “I was standing out there in the pouring rain talking to one of the garbage men, and he said that the driver would come back for our things, and my initial thought was, ‘Oh yeah, right,’ but about 20 minutes later, there he was! I was so grateful,” she explains.
Jody Deyoe also lives on Perkins’ route and says that she’s never had a problem with her garbage pickup, and she has sent letters in with her bill payments expressing what a superb job her garbage man does. “He really does a fantastic job. I appreciate him so much,” she says. “You don’t get to say that to your garbage man very often. They work incredibly hard and don’t get much recognition.” In the future, Deyoe says that she may just start leaving little treats on top of her cans to show Perkins her thanks for a job well done.
A world traveler
When Perkins isn’t behind the wheel of his garbage truck, he enjoys spending time with his wife of 10 years, Cyndee Lacuna. Perkins’ sister, who worked with Lacuna at the hospital where she is a labor delivery nurse, introduced the two. They seemed to be a good match and they hit it off immediately, but Perkins says their relationship was touch and go at the beginning. “We had both been previously married and divorced, and my sister thought we would get along well, so she introduced us and we went out a few times. She also broke up with me a few times, but I was persistent,” he says, laughing. “Then, there was a time that we were broken up and my dad was in the hospital going through a surgery for something. I guess she missed me, because she called me up and we’ve been together ever since.”
Perkins doesn’t have children of his own, but his wife has a 23-year-old son, Donevan, and a 25-year-old daughter, Kasondra. When Perkins and Lacuna aren’t busy at work, they enjoy traveling and have been on many adventures around the globe. Most recently, they made the trek to Toronto, Canada, for a family wedding and then accompanied relatives across the Atlantic, where they had the opportunity to explore London and Paris.
Although Perkins will go anywhere he and his wife’s travels take them, he prefers tropical climates and relishes any opportunity to relax on a beach and stick his feet in the sand. “Cyndee enjoys that too, but she also enjoys the history of different countries, and she has family all over the world, so we make trips to see her relatives a lot,” he says.
Retirement isn’t something that’s close, but he says when it does happen, his life will most likely be very much the same, with slightly more time for jetsetting around the world. Until then, he’s in it for the long haul and continues enjoying life’s little pleasures: the occasional afternoon on the golf course and a pepperoni and sausage pizza, hold the fungus.
Heiberg History, Mission and Traditions
Heiberg Garbage and Recycling (HGR) is the very definition of a family business.
The company was founded in 1947 when Vern and Marion Heiberg purchased a garbage route in Sellwood-Moreland from a newspaper ad. They ran the business until 1973, when their son Bruce, who was 19 at the time, purchased the company from his father and took over. Shortly after, Bruce’s brother Brian and wife Kris came to work for the company as well.
In 2007, HGR acquired Argay Disposal from Richard and Barbara Cereghino. The Cereghinos covered the Argay Terrace neighborhood route since 1973 and ran the company until they made the difficult decision to retire. Richard says the couple was concerned about retirement and to whom they would sell the business initially, but they decided on the Heiberg family because they were a family company who the Cereghinos could be confident would continue to provide their longtime customers with the same great service they had grown accustomed to getting.
Over time, the number of Heibergs involved in the family business has only grown. Bruce and Kris’ children work for them now as well, adding a third generation of Heibergs to HGR’s rich history. Jessi, Jimmy and Joseph were introduced to the industry early on, working at the office during the summer when they were kids. Then, after college, each of them came back to take their places at HGR. These days, Jimmy’s six-month-old daughter Addison Kay also spends time at the office, but unfortunately, this fourth-generation Heiberg isn’t much help on the business side just yet.
HGR has added quite a few non-family employees over the years as well. The company now employs nearly 35 workers and operates 23 garbage trucks daily. In 2014, they hauled nearly 32,500 tons of waste from area homes. Of that 32,500 tons, 40 percent was wet waste, 22 percent was yard waste and food scraps and only 15 percent was comingled recycling.
The Heibergs are also dedicated to giving back to the community. They frequently donate their time, trucks, and employees to neighborhood cleanups, the Boys & Girls Club of America, Boy Scouts and Portland Interscholastic League high school athletic events. By picking up recyclables and contributing to metropolitan air shed clean-up and noise reduction efforts during day-to-day operations, they contribute to the environment. In addition, HGR was one of the first companies in Oregon to operate Compressed Natural Gas clean-burning collection vehicles. For more information on HGR and their sustainability efforts, visit heiberggarbage.com.