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Longtime water chief ready to take flight

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After almost three decades of being on-call every hour of every day, Jim Leggieri anticipates not being tied to a telephone. He’d rather be tied to falconry or pigeon racing; spending time outdoors and away from the ever-beckoning ringtone of technology.

Retiring in July as general manager of the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation (CTWSC), Leggieri, 64, recently started studying books on falconry and has lined up a two-year training program.

Falconry is only one of Leggieri’s interests. He also plans to ride horses with his wife on greenbelt trails and spend time with his two daughters and grandsons visiting from Houston.

“In December, I woke up one morning and thought: ‘I need to just stop,’” Leggieri recalled, sitting in an empty boardroom at the water supply corporation on Hickory Hill Road recently. 

His wife had retired two years earlier.  Now it was Leggieri’s time to unwind.

“I can remember attending a wedding service and getting paged,” he said. “I had to get up and leave. I got out of the habit of making plans.”

An unexpected opportunity

Leggieri, originally from Upstate New York, had started community college near his home, when a friend-of-a-friend told him about Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. He applied, was accepted and packed his 1965 Buick Skylark with a few cardboard boxes and followed the route his father highlighted on a map. It was 1969.

In the mid-1970s, he was staying on a dentist’s Hereford ranch on Jeter Road in Bartonville to manage the property while living in the ranch house when he was faced with his first cattle roundup. A friend knew someone familiar with horses – how to saddle and ride them. Beth came out to help the greenhorns with their cattle wrangling. Jim and Beth Leggieri, who married three months later, will celebrate their 38th anniversary this year.

At the time, Leggieri was chief sanitation officer with the health department in Denton – a job he held for 12 years. He left in the spring of 1985 and spent the next year doing odd jobs, from installing septic systems to cleaning pools. Then he saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for general manager of what was then the Bartonville Water Supply Corporation (BWSC).

“It was right in keeping with what I did,” he said.

One of the first things he recalls, when describing the interview process with board members, was their succinct statements: “Treat the system as though it were your own” and “you just need to make it work.”

Personal interests were soon put on hold.

“Your job is when somebody needs it, not when you want it.”

Water guardian

Leggieri pointed to a map of the CTWSC’s 20-square-mile territory. He plans to update it before he leaves to show his replacement the exact details of all 88 miles of pipe, storage tanks and other water delivery mechanisms still under his wing.

The territory is mostly unchanged since Leggieri started in 1986 – except for 1,600 acres in the center, now under the control of Denton County Fresh Water Supply District 6/7 and Development District 4 – an area more commonly known as Lantana.

As it stands now, the CTWSC serves 2,200 businesses and residents, with the ability to provide up to an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 users; though growth has been a little slower than surrounding urban areas. Much of the territory encompasses 1-acre lots for homeowners seeking a piece of the rural life.

The system, however, is greatly changed from his first day in April 1986. At that time, 1,000 to 1,200 people depended on water flowing from around five sites across the territory. Each was located on higher ground and equipped with pumps to push the water to residents and several businesses on board in 1986. There were no elevated storage tanks to push water equally to customers’ spigots and faucets.

“The sites couldn’t back each other up,” Leggieri said. “If one well went out, we had issues.”

In his new job, Leggieri rode horses with his wife only to realize he was wandering a little too far from being able to quickly respond to a water emergency.  He tried team roping in Pilot Point but the events were generally on weekends in area towns – too far from his daily duties.

“I was spending so much time close to the house,” Leggieri said, adding he was looking for a hobby that didn’t take him far.

He’d always wanted to play a guitar, so one day he bought a guitar and took lessons from Thad Bonduris in Denton. Now he could sit on his couch, unwind and still be close to the phone.

On occasion, he’d let his daughters – Elizabeth Ann and Rebecca – join him on his daily runs to check the well sites.

Leggieri needed an extra pair of hands once, when the system sprang a leak. He couldn’t operate a backhoe and fix the leak at the same time. A former co-worker from the health department helped him out for free, Leggieri said.

“Some of the best memories are the toughest times.”

Changing times

In the mid-1990s, about 10 years after he became general manager, the Cross Timbers Water Supply installed its first elevated storage tank. The installation eliminated the need for the separate well sites.

“It changed a lot of that nail biting,” Leggieri said.

Afterward, the need for larger lines grew but the water supply needed 32 private easements. Leggieri, who had an interest in real estate while at the health department, happened to have his real estate license.

“It was about talking to landowners,” he said of the process to obtain easements. “Some would talk; some would say: ‘Did you bring your checkbook?’”

In 2000, the water supply earned certification as a superior-rated water system – the same level as neighboring larger systems. It is an achievement of which Leggieri is proud.

Michael Paulson, a board member for the water supply corporation for two decades, also noted the importance of the achievement.

“From not having enough water pressure to allow a resident to use the shower in an upstairs bathroom, to having all meters electronically recorded, the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation has significantly improved in the past 20 years,” he said. “Under Jim, we’ve gone to a completely automated system.”

He added that the water supply corporation also now has a system of back-up water supplies ranging from wells to the Upper Trinity River Water District.

“If we have a problem in the system, Jim will know where it is,” Paulson said. “We’re going to miss him.”

And that, he adds, is one of many reasons Jim Leggieri has been so valuable to the district – his willingness to work whatever it took, his knowledge of the system from top to bottom and his contacts with area landowners.

New beginnings

After making the decision to retire, Leggieri began thinking about what comes next.

As a youngster, he raced pigeons and still has both pigeons and pigeon coops on his 5-acre property outside of Denton. And, he’s had his eye on falconry the last few years.

“I’d always wanted to be a veterinarian,” Leggieri said to explain his love of animals – birds, horses and the couple’s six dogs, among others.

First on his agenda, after he packs up his office, is spending the Fourth of July with his grandsons, Stephen, 4, and Michael, 2. It’s an annual family event to see the Denton parade with “Papa Jim.”

But as he leaves, Leggieri is taking many life lessons with him to his next ventures.

“It’s something that developed me as an individual over the years,” Leggieri said of his job. “You become a better people person. You learn to lis
ten, not just talk. You learn to understand the other person’s point of view. “I’m definitely not the same person I was when I started.”

And, yes, he’ll still answer his phone, but maybe not quite as quickly as he watches a falcon soar across the clear blue sky.

Dawn Cobb can be reached at dawncobb365@gmail.com or via Facebook.

 

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