Mark Lubera is a giant of a man with a smile as big as his heart, according to those who work with him at the Town of Lancaster.
When Lubera retires Monday as the town parks crew chief, it will take three people to replace him, said Daniel J. Amatura, Lancaster's highway department superintendent.
"We hired a parks crew chief, and assistant parks crew chief and a part-time recreational director – three people to replace him," said Amatura.
An arborist by trade, Lubera, 64, began working as a laborer for the town in October 1994. He moved to Western New York from the Catskills region in 1981 after graduating from Finger Lakes Community College with a degree in natural resources conservation.
Natural disasters became markers in Lubera's career, starting with the October Surprise storm of 2006.
"Watching all the trees break apart was hard," Lubera said. "Determining which needed to be cut down was worse -- just the devastation of the whole thing. We lost so many trees."
In November 2014, when 7 feet of snow was dumped on Lancaster over a two-day span, Lubera was one of the first workers plowing town streets, Amatura recalled.
"Mark was always ready to work," Amatura said. "Anytime we had problems with trees falling, Mark was right there taking care of everything."
Lubera said he had a hand in planting 16,000 trees during his more than two decades working for the town. Many of them were planted in the residential developments there. Windsor Ridge, Hidden Meadows, Hidden Pines, Pleasant Meadows brought thousands of new rooftops to the town. And with them, new lilacs trees, pear trees and crimson king maples were planted, said Amatura.
Lubera attacked the emerald ash borer epidemic head-on, injecting 300 to 500 ash trees each year since 2010. The injections help ash trees stave off the hungry borers that tunnel through the bark and kill the tree.
Lubera was also instrumental in working with Amatura in compiling a tree inventory of the town. Of the 15,167 trees in the town's right of way, 1,500 are ash trees, Amatura said.
The crew chief also helped erect numerous playgrounds throughout the town. Lubera pointed to Memorial Garden at Westwood Park on Pavement Road as a project he took pride in.
Lubera will continue working part time as a laborer for the Village of Depew. The rest of his time will be spent fishing and hunting, just like he did when he lived near the Hudson River in the Catskills.
On Tuesday, his first day of retirement, Lubera plans to rise at 6 a.m., make some coffee and drive to his daughter's house in South Buffalo to watch his granddaughters wake up.
Lubera's voice catches when he talked about his wife of 38 years, Catherine, who fought pancreatic cancer for five years before passing away in 2016. He said she was happy to see the births of their two granddaughters, ages 1 and 4.
Amatura, meanwhile, will miss the man who entered the office every morning at 6:30 with a big smile on his face.
"For two years I had the pleasure of working with the man," said Amatura. "We worked on a lot of projects together. We accomplished a lot together."