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30 years of inspiration

Michael Murcray is one of the quiet heroes who lives among us. But after 30 years with New Leaf in Oak Harbor, the amiable and recognizable jack-of-all trades has found it nearly impossible to keep a low profile.

“When he’s not here, people always ask, ‘Where’s Mike at?’” said Chad Rodarmel, New Leaf grounds maintenance project manager. “We get that a lot. He knows a lot of people in this town.”

“This is the first time anybody’s gotten 30 years at New Leaf,” said Rhea Nelson, New Leaf executive director and chief executive officer.

New Leaf, a federal government contractor, is a private, nonprofit company that provides a variety of employment and opportunities for people with disabilities and the community within Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties. They offer job placement assistance, employment assessment, job training, independent living evaluation and support service, and set-aside employment opportunities.

The company must guarantee quarterly that 75 percent of all its direct labor hours go to people who are certified as severely disabled.

“There are 600 companies like ours in the United States and collectively we employ about 50,000 people with severe disabilities, which is a drop in the bucket because the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 80 percent,” Nelson said.

Murcray came to New Leaf out of Oak Harbor High School 30 years ago. The 47-year-old dynamo has worked his way up from simple jobs on the grounds crew to driving tractors when needed. In the winters he works for the commissary at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, where he is asked for by name.

“During the winter he switches from days to nights,” Nelson said. “We also have a janitorial contract on base. Mike’s the only person in our company who does something like that.”

Murcray will enjoy a dinner in his honor Sunday, June 24, at the CPO Club. Aside from family, his girlfriend, and colleagues from New Leaf, coaches and players from the Special Olympics will attend the event to help toot the longtime worker’s horn.

“Some other folks are going to talk about Mike’s accomplishments,” Nelson said.

Murcray received the national William Usdane Award in 2001 and traveled to Orlando, Fla., for the ceremony.

“I nominated him for it and it’s one of the two highest awards in our field,” Nelson said.

In 2003 he traveled with New Leaf personnel to Washington, D.C. for Grassroots, an annual pilgrimage that gives the staff an opportunity to speak with legislators about the program.

“Mike has met Congressman Rick Larsen to the point of being on a first-name basis,” Nelson said. “In fact, Congressman Larsen said Michael is his favorite constituent.”

Murcray has also rubbed shoulders with senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

The executive director is effusive in describing Murcray, unable to hide her pride and admiration for the loyal and capable worker.

“I think he’s one of the best employees that we’ve ever had,” Nelson said. “Not just longevity, but he never doesn’t come to work, he follows all the directions. But we don’t want him to get a big head.”

In addition to working, Murcray has been very active in Special Olympics, serving as the point of contact at New Leaf. The athlete is constantly bringing home new medals from the events. He has competed in bicycling, basketball, bowling, track and field, and soccer one year.

“He does them all,” Rodarmel said. “This year he’s taking up golf.”

Murcray has forged a great, independent life for himself. He lives in his own apartment, pays his taxes, maintains a relationship with his girlfriend, and is never late for work. After 30 years at New Leaf, one would think retirement is a consideration. But one would have to ask him directly.

“Do I have to?” he would reply.

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