SUNY Oswego’s University Police Department recognized Roger Pullen with the honorary title of the department’s “Car Wash Specialist” in September, following his retirement after 35 years of service and an estimated 10,000 vehicles washed. A modest ceremony with a custom fleece thanked him for an extraordinary time with the campus.

Roger’s career began through volunteering at the Oswego YMCA, his mother Kay Pullen said, after a fellow volunteer who worked for SUNY Oswego noticed Roger’s strong work ethic. Roger, who has Down syndrome, had volunteered with the Oswego YMCA before his career began with Facilities Services, and continues to do so following his retirement.

“That was his ‘thing’ because I’ve volunteered there for years and years, so Roger has done that since he was little,” Kay explained. Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and his work for the university, “he was never able to go and do anything, so I got him involved,” Kay said.

Roger’s career working for the university initially involved working in the campus dormitories, moving furniture and painting, but according to Kay, he found it to be a difficult fit.

“He worked there for a few months, and it just didn’t work out,” said Kay. “It was a full-time job, but they came back, and they figured that they’d try to put him on part-time, so that’s how he went over to the garage.”

The switch to working in the garage washing the vehicles used by campus police was not only a better fit but also part of a routine that Roger enjoyed, according to his brother Tom Pullen.

“Each day, every day, he’d come home and say ‘I did it again,’” Tom said. 

Roger’s 35-year career was one in which he brought enthusiasm to work each day.

“Every day, he was happy to go to work, and every day, he’d come out as happy,” Kay said. “I don’t see anyone who comes into work as happy and stays as happy, but he did for 35 years.”

Scott Swayze, chief of University Police, said that Roger’s work ethic and positive mindset left an impression on his department and the campus community.

‘Great friend’

Roger is one of SUNY Oswego's hardest workers who's always ready to tackle the next job he's faced with,” Swayze said. “He's a great friend to University Police and with his lively approach to his job, Roger makes our campus a brighter place to work.”

That work –- including washing nearly 10,000 police cars by Swayze’s estimation –- always made him a welcome presence.

Roger’s career and positive attitude were only interrupted briefly by the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was unable to utilize public transportation to commute to work, and when the campus garage was briefly shut down. The hiatus during the pandemic was the only interruption to Roger’s career and spurred thoughts that he would not return following the pandemic.

Roger, however, did not initially entertain any conversations on his retirement, and returned to work, even being driven by his mother to work until he was able to commute via bus post-pandemic.

“He was definitely set on that, and there was no talking him out of it,” said Tom.

Roger returned following the pandemic, starting what he and his family believed was his 33rd year on the job, but was actually his 35th.

“He thought he had been there 33 years, but I came to find that it was 35 when I talked to his boss,” Kay said.

The realization that Pullen had worked longer than he anticipated, along with the conspicuous milestone of 35 years, helped change his mind on considering retirement, despite some lingering hesitation to leave the job he loved.

“There was a lot of convincing [still required],” Tom said.

Even though Roger has officially retired, he continues to volunteer at the Oswego YMCA. He has made an impact elsewhere, as noted by the City of Oswego Fire Department naming him an honorary chief and dedicating a bench next to their eastside fire station in his honor in 2021.

Reflecting on his long career, Roger said the most memorable moments were being able to show up every day, “to support myself and my family,” he said.  

–- Written by Ethan Semeraro of the Class of 2023