When it comes to heading up Madison’s recycling program, being a St. Louis Cardinals fan looks like it’s becoming a prerequisite.
Bryan Johnson officially became the city’s recycling coordinator in late January, following the retirement of longtime “recycling czar” George Dreckmann. Both men are fans of the same professional baseball team and have a knack for talking.
The former of the similarities between the two might not be as important as the latter in a job that requires a lot of public outreach and education.
As program coordinator, the 36-year-old Johnson said his job is a balance of keeping the city’s recycling on track and acting as a public information officer for the Streets Division, including answering residents’ questions about accepted recyclables and when their streets will be plowed.
“It’s been busy. I find out that George was involved in a lot of things. I know he sort of has impossibly large shoes to fill,” Johnson said.
The Southern Illinois native, who earned a bachelor’s in elementary education, decided teaching wasn’t for him after a year of leading his own classroom in Belleville, Illinois.
“I was going to be a fifth-grade teacher or middle school English teacher. That was the plan, and now I’m here. I find comfort in that,” Johnson said.
Dreckmann also had intentions of teaching after he graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in secondary education and history before becoming the face of Madison’s recycling program for 26 years.
Johnson came to the Madison area eight years ago as his wife, Emily, began studying for her eventual master of library science degree.
He worked with the Madison Police Department, becoming a police report typist, and later started as the operations clerk at the Streets Division’s West Side location, where he was the main contact person for people with problems or questions.
“That’s how I learned a lot of this stuff with the recycling business, from questions you get from the public and figuring out what the answers are,” Johnson said.
He and his wife have been married for 10 years and live in the Elvehjem neighborhood on the Far East Side. His wife gave birth to their son last fall.
Years of correcting others on the spelling of his name and the difficulties of proving he was not the ‘Bryan Johnson’ who was a felon or had unpaid child support in order to buy his house encouraged the couple to find a unique name for their son that’s spelled one way, he said.
They settled on Abraham, a small homage the couple’s connection to Illinois, Johnson said.
While officially the recycling coordinator for just a couple of months, Johnson said he has been learning about the position and its responsibilities since October.
It involves maintaining the current recycling program, expanding a budding organics program, informing the public of snow plowing updates and working with other city officials to figure out how to keep bike lanes open in the winter, among other tasks, Johnson said.
Between the new responsibilities and a family, Johnson said he likes to spend time reading.
He went back to school and got a master’s in creative writing from Minnesota State University-Mankato in 2008, penning a novel for his thesis project.
Owning about 1,200 books, Johnson described himself as “a bit of a literature snob,” and said he became excited about the abundance of discount bookstores in the area.
The avid reader knows the value of dedication and persistence, after losing more than 100 pounds, but if he has a work-related issue or question, Johnson said he’ll occasionally look to Dreckmann for advice.
”He’s really the only one who’s done this job. He built the plane, so I’m just trying to fly the thing he built, at this point, before I start adding my own tweaks to it,” Johnson said.
— Logan Wroge