Before coming to Illinois, Tim Prunkard, the technical services supervisor at the Nathan M. Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory, had always considered himself a lineman.
In football parlance, a lineman is the guy who keeps his head down, follows the predetermined blocking scheme and does the grunt work - but rarely receives recognition for a job well done.
That all changed when Prunkard arrived on campus 19 years ago, hired as a lab mechanic at the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory. Within a year, he was promoted to senior lab mechanic and transferred to Newmark.
"When I came here, they wanted my opinion," he said. "They went out of their way to ask for it, which was new and very strange."
Before long, and to his surprise, Prunkard had become a quarterback, the guy the coach believes can carry out the game plan and can be trusted to improvise when that plan goes south.
And then Prunkard realized he was virtually surrounded by quarterbacks - all with special skills, abilities and ideas for reaching the goal line.
"This was different than any other place I've worked," he said. "Linemen don't get a lot of praise and I've always been satisfied with working behind the scenes, but the management team here recognizes the things we do. It's not somebody else deciding on things, and it's not just me doing the deciding. Around here, the decisions are made together."
That trust is grounded in Prunkard's long and varied resume. Originally from Indianola in Vermilion County, Ill., he worked a long string of mechanical manufacturing jobs in the area, earning union cards as a machinist and tool and die maker along the way, as well as a host of other trade-related certifications. He first apprenticed under his father, who was an electrician.
His job experience has run the gamut, from machinist to millwright, and he has built just about everything - from lift trucks to caskets to highly specialized aerospace and gas-turbine equipment during 10 years at Danville Metal Stamping.
"My career has always been driven by politics," Prunkard said, noting that one of his first jobs disappeared with legislation that curtailed the once-vibrant Illinois coal industry.
At Newmark, he monitors the workflow of 10 employees, who are involved in on-campus construction projects and in building the steel structures used by the lab's researchers to test stress limits. The structures are constructed inside the lab's multifloored, building-length room.
"This is research that develops into classroom teaching," he said. "It's satisfying knowing that you are a part of the best civil engineering program in the world and it's something we want to help maintain. We do a lot of work with students, mostly graduate students, and they come from all over the world. I think they get as much experience down here as they do in the classroom. I get to work with a lot of different types of people."
As a supervisor, Prunkard said he misses the more hands-on nature of working in the trades - though he's still known as someone who can roll up his sleeves and work on something when it's needed.
"I'm kind of a contractor now," he said. "A lot of my day is in meetings and it's much more defined than it used to be. I like to help where I can, but I have to be careful not to get in the way. The level of expertise in this shop and on this campus is phenomenal and any success I've had has to do with the people around me. I have the best crew on campus; they all are experts in their fields, they're never tardy, and I've never had any big problems. I consider a lot of people who work around here geniuses. Sometimes I wonder how they tolerate me. It's just nice being a little part of that success."
But when it comes to safety, Prunkard pulls no punches and is not afraid to call someone out.
"I'm a bit of a safety nut," he said. "That's usually the only reason I might bark at the guys, but I think it's something that has to be passed along."
At home Prunkard is heavily involved with the Catlin Church of Christ and regularly participates in missions and volunteer projects, where he uses his lifelong acquired skills to help others.
He likes to fish and hunt, though his son, Luke, a campus building service worker, "says I don't know how to have fun. You can find me here even when I'm not supposed to be here, but sometimes I do throw the cellphone under the seat and head out to the quarry to fish."
His wife, Jackie, is a retired physical education teacher, and his daughter is a teacher at an elementary school in Danville School District 118.
"My goal was always to live long enough to see my kids have productive lives and contribute to their church, job and community," he said. "I've really been blessed."