‘JB’ Jeff Burkhardt lived as an icon representing what’s good in life at the city’s refuse department. And now his memory will live on through a park bench that his friends have dedicated on the Manteca Golf Course.
Surrounding JB’s wife Lori, some 25 city employees were on hand to add some definite “heart and soul” to the mid-day memorial dedication ceremony. A number of them stepped up to share memories of their friend who they said spread smiles and happiness from behind the wheel of his refuse truck.
They all leaned with their hands on the bench – the pond at their backs – and told of their memories and love for a co-worker who died in February before his time. JB left a wife and 22-year-old son.
Burkhardt had worked as a collection worker in the Solid Waste Division for nearly eight years. His boss Rexie LeStrange said JB was the type of employee that any supervisor would love to clone.
“His garbage truck always looked like it just came off the showroom floor. His uniform always looked brand new. He was exceptionally clean and a perfectionist,” she said. “He took time with people – always ready to smile and to say hello.”
His supervisor took a moment to recall the story of a “special” child named Ryan who lived on his pickup route.
She recounted that Ryan ran out to greet JB and his truck for seven years. “JB always took time to talk with him and to let him see his truck,” she said.
Young Ryan attended JB’s memorial service and had a hard time understanding why everyone was so sad, the supervisor said.
What he said was eloquent: “JB may not be here, but he will always be in our hearts.”
After his untimely death, Ron Tilton set up the JB Memorial Fund. Tilton wanted to do something to keep his memory alive and he and his friends see that the bench will do just that along with a memorial golf tournament set for October.
LeStrange added, “Our guys need a way to honor and to keep his memory alive, so they are finding ways to do that.”
She pointed out that the driver who has JB’s truck now and meets Ryan every week doesn’t have an easy task for sure, “but he is coping as we all are,” she said.