All In A Day’s Work: Bob Bruschi
When Bob Bruschi went off to college in Ohio, he was so homesick for Princeton that his parents had an issue of Town Topics mailed to him weekly. It seems fitting then, to mark the popular town administrator’s retirement with this interview. Although he admits to finding it difficult to be leaving his desk at Witherspoon Hall just at the moment when several civic projects that have been close to his heart for years are beginning to take shape, he’s looking forward to his new role as an organizer of golf-centered events for a nonprofit organization that will take him to Palm Springs this January.—Linda Arntzenius
“The job I do now was never on my radar as a kid. Back then I wanted to be a professional baseball player until reality set in and I realized it was never going to happen. I grew up in Princeton; my father worked for a time in the comptrollers office at Princeton University and my mom had her hands full raising me. I went to Littlebrook, Community Park, and Valley Road School — there was no John Witherspoon Middle School in those days — and then to Princeton High School.
For my undergraduate degree, I went to the University of Dayton, in Ohio. I’ve no idea why but it seemed a good idea at the time. I studied physical therapy and education with an eye to getting a job but when I graduated in 1974 there were no teaching jobs so I went directly into a master’s program at Springfield College where I studied public administration with a focus on parks and recreation. After that I taught phys. ed. for a couple of years and also coached baseball and football at Princeton Day School. When West Windsor Township created a new position in recreation, I left teaching. The job was part-time at first but I managed to persuade them that it should be full-time. And the rest is history, as they say.
Early on in my days with the Borough, the biggest challenge was an austere budget and a lot of things to accomplish. By the time the Borough of Princeton and the Township of Princeton consolidated [January 2013], the Borough had a solid budget and brought a surplus of some $5 million to the “marriage,” if I can call it that.
There are two high points of my career here in Princeton. One is the building of the downtown parking garage and mixed use residential building. That whole redevelopment was regarded as highly risky, politically and financially, and it’s one that I take pride in; probably one of the single biggest things of my career. That and consolidation, which is a feather in everyone’s cap. I was always in favor of consolidation. Even as a kid, I could never understand why there were two Princetons. I take great pride in my role and in being here to usher in the change.
The Future for Princeton
There are several projects that I would like to have seen to completion. One is the PFARS [Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad] rebuilding project, which will leave a great opportunity at its old site by the Princeton Shopping Center. As I see it, this would be perfect for affordable housing. Second, is the expansion of the fire house, which has been talked about for some three years. Princeton’s three fire companies do well with the separate facilities they have but it would be great to have all three merged and functioning as one and I would have enjoyed working with the volunteers on that, especially because I was an active member of Mercer Engine Company 3 for 25 years. I started after college but I don’t do very much these days; I’ve been more of a social member these last 15 years. The third project is the lot on Franklin Avenue, which the municipality will be receiving from Princeton University. That would be another great opportunity to partner with the Princeton Housing Authority and Princeton Community Housing.
My wife Linda and I first met when we were both working for the Princeton Recreation Department one summer. Linda retired from teaching at Riverside a couple of years ago. We’ve been married for 39 years and have two daughters, Amy and Kristen. Amy has two kids, Emma, three and Will, who is five and a half going on fifteen. Kristin is expecting her first child in December.
When we were starting out, my wife and I wanted to live in Princeton but there was nothing we could afford. We didn’t earn enough to be able to buy even the cheapest $79,000 house that was available on Harrison Street at the time and we earned too much to be eligible for a subsidy. That always gnawed at me and I believe that affordable housing is an important issue for Princeton.
If Princeton values the diversity that makes it such a unique place to live, then anything the local government can do to provide housing options should be embraced. That’s what a local authority should be doing. Unlike many other towns in New Jersey, Princeton has always looked for an opportunity to create affordable housing, something that needs to be subsidized. It is a tremendous asset to a town to have its police officers, teachers, firemen, and other employees living in the town where they work. It gives them an attachment to the town. Speaking from a personal point of view, my job has never been work. I grew up here, I’m part of the fabric of Princeton, and I believe it is very important to keep those who work here living here.
My philosophy with respect to retirement has never been to think of it as a time of not working. A couple of years ago I got interested in events centered around golf and I’ll be involved in a PGA event in January in Palm Springs, California. The Humana Challenge Tour was formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic and I’ll be working on it as soon as I leave my desk here in Witherspoon Hall, which should be around the end of October. Just think, no snow shoveling for me this January.
As for what I will miss? I’ve been blessed to have an incredible staff who have Princeton’s interests to heart and who have supported my initiatives. This is far from being an 8-hour-a-day job; you spend a lot of time with the people you work with, sometimes more than with your family. People make sacrifices for the job. I’ll miss the whole daily routine and those personal interactions. One thing that I will not miss, however, is attending meetings of the governing body. I’m ready to go, especially as I am young enough to make a contribution to where I’m headed in the future.