When Josh Puckett was in middle school, he remembers riding his bike to his dad’s workplace at Santa Margarita Water District to visit.
“Josh liked to sit at my desk,” said Don Puckett, who worked as an underground locator for SMWD then. They would load his bike in the truck bed and drive home together. It’s a memory that Don cherishes.
Decades later, Josh has his own workspace at SMWD where he serves on the street crew fixing leaks and making repairs to the district’s network of water mains and pipes.
Some of Josh’s earliest memories include how much his father enjoyed his work. They both also remember with gratitude how SMWD made it possible for Don to attend many of the hockey and baseball games Josh played as a kid. The people who work at SMWD feel like a family, so this father and son duo fit in easily. Many employees have decades of service and can’t imagine themselves working anywhere else, Don included.
“My dad always loved his job,” said Josh. When he was looking for new employment closer to home, Josh naturally checked to see if SMWD had any positions open with one condition: that he would prove himself and his capabilities without his dad’s help. As Josh cycled through about five different interviews for meter reading and other positions over a year without being hired, he recalled his dad joking that he wasn’t sure if he was helping or hurting. Then the job offer came for a place on the street crew. “Finally, they gave me a chance,” Josh said.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Don about working with his son. The two share a close bond that becomes apparent after just a few minutes of talking with them. At work though, Don’s job tending to the lift stations and Josh’s on the street team mean they rarely see each other at the district. “We’ve never even had lunch together [since he’s worked here],” Don said with a laugh. However, the father and son live just two miles apart and spend a lot of time together outside of work and with Josh’s wife Alaina and 15-month-old son Caleb.
Water isn’t the only family business for the father and son. Both also are military veterans: Don served in the U.S. Marines as a jet mechanic and Josh in the U.S. Army 75th Ranger Regiment as a radio operator, where he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Josh initially thought his career would be with the Army, but he changed his mind after four years and returned to civilian life. A few years as an electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Los Angeles had him searching for a shorter commute and a different kind of work.
Don has worked at SMWD since 1990. He admits that before he joined the district, he had no idea where the water came from when the tap was turned on or where it went after the toilet was flushed. But he quickly learned to appreciate all that happens behind the scenes to make water flow. “I’ve always liked coming to work here,” he said. He has held several different roles during his thirty-year career, but his favorite positions have included a heavy dose of field work that keeps him moving from station to station.
Josh also relishes being able to work outside, especially when the weather is sunny and clear. Saddleback Mountain is usually in sight no matter where you are in the District, making for much better views than one gets cooped up in an office. He has worked at the District for about four years now as part of a crew of four men. He’s proud that he learned the water industry skills quickly and earned his D1 license in his first year.
It’s a career path Don is pleased to see his son take. His advice for anyone starting out in the water field is to study hard for certification testing, but also to take a welding class or an auto mechanic class to learn how to fabricate things. “Balancing theoretical learning with hands-on work is key to excelling at a trade,” Don said.
Don has been at SMWD long enough to remember the District’s earliest days, when it seemed more like a mom-and-pop operation. “Back then, two or three of us would have to pile in the cab of a truck with no air conditioning to do a job,” he said. On a hot day, it was downright uncomfortable. Today, much has changed for the better — from the technology, tools and equipment to the newer and air-conditioned fleet of trucks. Don keeps up with the innovations in part by not being afraid to ask questions and learn from his co-workers who have specialized training, even when they are younger or less experienced. This includes his son, who he tells people is his opposite. “He’s serious and smart, where I like to joke around and tease people,” Don said. “It makes me feel good when coworkers compliment him. I can’t take credit for it though. God did that. I was just there [as his dad] to help out.”
Usually, it is the son who calls the father his hero, but in this case, the admiration goes both ways. “I tell Josh he’s my hero for what he did as an Army Ranger,” Don said. “I could take lessons from him.”
As for Josh, he’s been watching his dad closely since he was young, learning by example how to balance work and family while giving a hundred percent every day. He’s not trying to fill his dad’s shoes, but to set his own path and make his own way. SMWD is lucky to have this family as part of its own extended family.