The Star-Herald

Gil’s Sanitation marks 50 years in business

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Tom Berube, owner and general manager of Gil’s Sanitation in Presque Isle, and his father, Gil Berube, have seen so many changes in the sanitation business over the last 50 years they can’t keep track of all of them.

“When we first started, we had flatbed trucks with sideboards that we would unload by hand,” Gil Berube recalled.

His son remembered how environmental regulations on recycling implemented during the 1960s and 70s changed the way Gil’s Sanitation collected garbage.

“Back then we would just throw the garbage in trucks and take it to the landfill,” Tom Berube said. “There wasn’t so much emphasis on recycling like there is now. Recycling saves a lot of space in the landfills.”

Today, Gil’s Sanitation uses blue-bag recycling for customers to dispose of paper products, cans and plastic, and provides roll off containers and pick-up for large construction, remodeling and clean-up projects as well as regular waste pick-up in Presque Isle, Washburn, Wade, Mapleton, Chapman and Castle Hill.

The Berube family has seen nearly everything about their business — from technology and bookkeeping to customer payment options and the waste collection process itself — change in numerous ways. Many customers who used to pay by cash or check now prefer credit cards and the business existed for over two decades before the presence of the internet demanded they have a website. One welcome change came when the law no longer allowed residents to burn garbage.

“We used to have six or seven truck fires a year in the 70s and 80s because people would burn their garbage and sometimes there were still hot ashes inside. The DEP banned that practice years ago and we really appreciated it when that happened,” Gil Berube said.

Gil and Marie Berube purchased the sanitation business, formerly known as White’s Sanitation, on February 1, 1968, after Emery White had a stroke and decided to sell the business.

“I immediately ordered a truck and after that I spent 90 evenings going from house to house, ringing doorbells and gaining our customers,” Gil Berube said. “I’d go back to the car and Marie would write down their information. She set up all our books and we built the business house by house.”

Their son Tom became formally involved with the family business in the early 90s. He had previously owned his own snap-on tool business and worked as an auto mechanic at Presque Isle Volkswagen. At Gil’s Sanitation, he started as the operations/general manager and did “a little bit of everything” from repairing trucks to preparing safety procedures for the workers. He said that today he still enjoys taking on tasks that are outside his job description.

“I work with the guys all the time to get a sense of what’s going on with the business, so that if someone says, ‘We need to order this part,’ I’ll know that we really do need it,” Tom Berube said. “If the phone rings for a pick up and there’s no guy available, I jump in the truck and go.”

Gil’s Sanitation is just one of many businesses that Gil Berube has owned over the years. Before going into waste management, he had begun the first ambulance service in Presque Isle and opened a Shell service station. He also has operated Gil’s Wrecker Service, a NAPA Auto and Truck Repair Center, and several apartment buildings. To this day he still maintains all businesses except Gil’s Wrecker and the ambulance service, now operated by the City of Presque Isle and Crown Ambulance.

Gil and his wife Marie, who died in 2010 of complications from a stroke, located the Gil’s Sanitation office and garages at their home at 19 Caribou Road in Presque Isle before moving the business to 47 Washburn Road in 2008 to give the couple more privacy and to expand the business with more equipment.

Even with the challenges of running a business with family members, Tom Berube said that he and his father have prided themselves on providing good service to customers and pushing one another to do the best work possible.

“My daughter worked in the business for awhile and I expected more of her than I did from the guys just because I didn’t want people thinking I was giving her an easier time,” Tom Berube said. “Dad was the same way when I was working there as a kid. Just because I was his son doesn’t mean I got to slack off.”

“It’s been a challenge,” he added. “But I think being able to work and play together is probably one of the biggest accomplishments any family can achieve in life.”

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