In 1963, Robert Stumpff had all but decided he would go to Penn State University for college. A Pennsylvania native, he’d already attended orientation and even registered for classes. But the summer before his freshman year, he had a change of heart.
“I told my father, ‘You know, I should go to Maryland. I like the campus better, it’s pretty,'” he said.
Stumpff chose to come down to College Park, and stayed for more than 50 years.
He worked his way through the University of Maryland’s athletic and facilities management departments, as well as the student union, before becoming the city’s public works director. This month, he retired from the post after 13 years.
“He really inspired the staff to do their best work,” Mayor Patrick Wojahn said. “The public works department is pretty well universally loved from residents, and a lot of that is accredited to [Stumpff].”
Stumpff’s first job in College Park was during his undergraduate years. He worked at the university’s sports information office to cover his expenses.
On the cusp of graduation in 1968, Stumpff received an offer to go back home and work for the Nittany Lions’ athletic department. Again, he turned it down to remain at Maryland.
Bill Cobey, the Terps’ athletic director at the time, offered him the position of assistant athletic director.
“I knew Maryland,” Stumpff said. “Going back up home, I’d have to deal with some other people.”
By 1988, however, Stumpff had grown tired of the strenuous hours at the athletic department, so he decided to switch to facilities management. He was in charge of maintaining Cole Field House and Maryland Stadium during his time in the athletic department, so it was a good fit.
Facilities management presented him with a new challenge — waste management. At the time, the university used garbage trucks with wheels that proved too wide for the narrower streets of the campus.
Stumpff said he sat down with representatives from Mack and Heil, two major trash truck manufacturers, to see what could be done about the problem. He proposed building a new type of front-loading waste truck — allowing for a larger truck and a tighter turning radius. It would be a first in North America.
“They looked at me, and said, ‘It’s never been done before,'” Stumpff said. “I said, ‘I don’t care if it’s never been done before, I want to do it.'”
After six months of testing, the truck worked, and is now in use by manufacturers such as Waste Management Inc. and BFI, Stumpff said.
In 2005, Stumpff decided to retire from facilities management. The day he submitted his paperwork, he met with Dan Mote, this university’s president at the time. Mote informed him the city’s public works director had resigned, and offered to put in a good word. Soon after, Stumpff took on the post.
Scott Somers, the current city manager, credits Stumpff with helping the city improve its relationship with the university.
“He brought all of those networks and relationships with him,” Somers said. “It was helpful to me to reach out to Bob if I need to reach out to people in the university.”
As public works director, he coordinated the university and city’s annual Fourth of July celebration in Lot 1, working with facilities management and university police.
“He loved this university beyond words,” said Jack Baker, facilities management’s executive director of operations and maintenance. “Just a real team player, and an excellent representative for the university.”
P.J. Brennan, a District 2 councilman, said Stumpff led the creation of a new building for public works employees. Before Stumpff’s tenure, Somers said, public works employees were forced to shower and change in a small trailer. Last year, the department moved into a new building with environmentally friendly toilets and showers.
Robert Marsili, the city’s incoming public works director, commended Stumpff for his leadership skills.
When Marsili was a few months into his job as the department’s assistant director, a water main broke, flooding the youth and family services building. New to the city and unfamiliar with the emergency protocol, Marsili turned to Stumpff for help.
“He was even-keeled, and that’s important, in major emergencies … where there is a lot of pressure to get things done,” Marsili said.
Somers said on snow days, Stumpff would often spend late nights ensuring the city’s streets would get plowed, even when streets elsewhere in the county weren’t.
Wojahn praised Stumpff for helping modernize the public works department, improving the city’s yard waste program by implementing a composting program and putting solar panels on the public works garage.
Christina Toy, a North College Park resident, said while she didn’t know Stumpff well, the public works department had always been helpful to her, assisting her installation of a miniature library in her front yard.
Stumpff told Somers in June 2017 that he planned to work one more year before stepping down, deciding it was time for him to “figure out the next chapter of his life.”
In January, Stumpff pinched a nerve in his back, temporarily costing him the use of his left leg. While he said that didn’t prompt his retirement — he’d already made the decision — it did make him think about downsizing.
He still plans on being active in retirement, maintaining his membership to the Maryland Recycling Association, as well as this university’s M Club and Alumni Association. And although he lives in Howard County now, he won’t be leaving College Park for good.
“I’ve renewed my season tickets for football and women’s basketball already,” Stumpff said.