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Cousins see many changes over decades managing campuses

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From left: Terry Achey, Ronald Wise and Rodney Underkoffler. Photos/Submitted and Heather Stauffer
From left: Terry Achey, Ronald Wise and Rodney Underkoffler. Photos/Submitted and Heather Stauffer

Terry Achey and his cousins didn't plan to spend decades overseeing some of the Hershey area's biggest facilities. It just happened.

"Ron, Terry and I grew up in families that always did our own building and repairs. If something was broke, we fixed it. If something needed to be built, we built it," said Rodney Underkoffler. "That had a lot to do in preparing us for our careers."

Achey joined Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine's HVAC crew in 1979. Ronald Wise became a maintenance supervisor at Lower Dauphin School District about the same time. And Underkoffler started working part time in the park foods department of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co. in 1971.

All three stayed with the organizations and through the decades advanced to director of facilities positions in careers they said probably wouldn't be possible today.

But their times are coming to an end. Achey just retired and was succeeded by Marvin Smith, a 27-year U.S. Air Force veteran and civil engineer, and Wise plans to retire March 31.

"I think we all basically have the same job, it's just on different scales," Wise said.

Their jobs don't intersect much, but because of the family connection they've occasionally been able to help each other, such as by discussing vendor performance, Achey said. The projects were different, but they've all done the painstaking planning after which actual construction is anticlimactic.

And they've all experienced the same technological evolution.

"We've seen facilities being cared for manually in our early years to now having everything computerized," Underkoffler said. "Our new building systems can be monitored and controlled from our desk or even from home with our smartphones."

But the advancements haven't necessarily made their jobs less complicated.

"Each building has more technology than the building before, so it requires more staff to take care of the equipment, and often that staff is at the next level of technology, which means you need to train your staff to that level of technology," Achey said.

Coupled with increasing regulation, that means the 1,660 productive hours he used to be able to count on per full-time employee has shrunk to about 1,500.

At the medical campus, there also has been massive physical growth. When Achey started, there were about 4,000 employees and roughly 2.5 million square feet of facilities. Today, he estimates those have increased to 9,000 and 4.5 million, respectively — and the buildings on the 560-acre main campus are so full that hundreds of people are working in leased space in Hershey.

The opening of the Children's Hospital marked the completion of one 10-year facilities master plan, Achey said, and he has spent the past year and a half working on the next master plan, which hasn't been officially released yet.

"It's all based on smart growth," Achey said, noting that health care is one of the industries "that's still constructing and expanding." A lot of the future clinical growth will be at outpatient sites, he said, but "there's still expansion to be done on the research side of the campus side of the campus, and on the educational side."

The other big change the cousins all noted over the course of their careers was the emergence of green concerns, due to both environmental and financial considerations. Achey took an extra step with the concept by developing a Campus Green Council a few years ago; he has turned over its reins but said it's developing a pilot program for enhanced recycling and is planning other initiatives.

Additionally, Achey went out with a green bang, as it were, by securing approval for a multiyear landscape master plan that he had been developing for a while. Up to 700 trees will be added to the campus — some replacing over-matured, diseased or damaged ones — and pavilions and miles of paths and walkways will be added.

"We're going to reduce turf mowing by at least 19 acres," Achey said.

And he's striking a blow at an old nemesis, oak trees in the parking lots, which have been responsible for acorns, acorn damage to vehicles and squirrels that eat wiper blades when acorns aren't available.

"No nut trees, no fruit trees," Achey said of the future. "Beautiful shade trees."

Terry Achey

Age: 60

Job: Director of facilities, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine

Family and the business: Met wife, Peggy, through job; she worked in the company's finance and business department until retiring three years ago. Daughter Lisa Brennan works in the pain clinic.

Ronald Wise

Age: 56

Job: Director of facilities, Lower Dauphin School District

Family and the business: Met wife, Cindy, through job; she's the assistant business manager for the district.

Rodney Underkoffler

Age: 57

Job: Director of facilities and operations, Hershey Entertainment Complex

Family and the business: Met wife, Michelle, through a mutual friend who worked for the company. Son Jeremy is a Hersheypark ride operations manager and son Joshua is a part-time Hersheypark games attendant.

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