Public Works Week

Public Works Week
Posted on 05/27/2021
Abdoul's Hydrant

This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021 edition of This Week in Renton.

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COVER STORY

Photo of water maintenance staff

The water maintenance division honored Abdoul Gafour with his own personalized fire hydrant. The hydrant was painted by Sybil Ania McIntyre and is located at the Benson Road South entrance to city hall.
Pictured with with Abdul is water maintenance manager George Stahl, who came up with the idea for a hydrant, and maintenance workers Todd Hamblin and Paul Dills.

National Public Works Week recognizes the men and women who work around the clock to maintain the systems that sustain our community, maintain a high quality of life and protect the well-being of our residents.

When public works leadership was asked if they had one employee who epitomizes the department, they were unanimous: utility engineering manager Abdoul Gafour.

“We are very fortunate to have Abdoul overseeing our water utilities,” said Ron Straka, his supervisor and co-worker for 32 years. “In all my years of working with him, I have witnessed his consistent dedication to providing superior customer service and his intense focus on protecting public health and safety.”

Abdoul’s outstanding 41-year career with the city is more remarkable when you learn the story of his upbringing.

Born in Vietnam, he was educated in French schools through high school. His father’s plan was to send him and his brother to Paris to study engineering. But a chance meeting with a guest at the hotel his parents owned abruptly changed his career path.

“A man saw me working on my math homework and asked my dad about my plans after high school,” Abdoul recalled while sitting in his city hall cubicle. “When he heard studying engineering in Paris, he asked ‘Why?’"

The man, who was from Spokane, impressed upon Abdoul and his father that the United States would provide a more technical engineering degree.

Based on that recommendation, Abdoul, his brother Abdoullah and his mother studied schools and cities in the U.S. The East Coast was quickly eliminated (“my mom thought it was too cold!”). They kept coming back to Washington state and Spokane. They applied to Washington State University and the University of Washington. The UW was first to accept their applications, and a new path was set.

After two years in school, the family’s business and savings were wiped out by the communist regime after the Vietnam War ended. Undeterred, the brothers took jobs working for UW Food Services, washing dishes and serving meals. Those jobs paid for the remaining two years of university.

“We’d work the morning shift, go to classes, study, and then work after dinner washing dishes,” he recalled. “On weekends, we go to another set of dorms and do the same.”

His introduction to the City of Renton was just as random.

“I was doing business at the courthouse and saw an advertisement that Renton was looking for an engineer. I had no idea where Renton was,” he laughs. “Because while at UW, we always went north.”

Abdoul found the right bus connections, interviewed, got the job, and over 40 years later is still enjoying his work.

He has worked on some of the city’s most important projects. His favorite? The Maplewood Well Field within Maplewood Golf Club. The facility includes pump stations, a separate water treatment facility and a transmission main routed under and across the Cedar River.

“It was a challenge. Not only did we need to put a water facility in the middle of a golf course, but also get the transmission lines across the Cedar River. People think we tunneled, but we dammed the river to cut the trench.

“I owe the city everything,” he says. “What we do takes great teamwork and I’ve had great co-workers and bosses. When I started, Ron Olson was a great mentor. Now I’m fortunate to have the same relationship with Ron [Straka]. George [Stahl, water maintenance manager] and I have worked together for 40 years.”

Abdoul has the same passion for his hobbies as he does for his work. For the past eight years he’s been a ride leader with the Cascade Bicycle Club. He’s completed the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride six times. For 20 years, he taught 6-10 year olds how to snow ski.

“Can you imagine a kid from Vietnam teaching snow skiing?” he says with a laugh.

It’s that sense of humor and dedication to his profession that has benefitted Renton residents for the past 41 years.

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