Kandace Lukow's eyes melt as she thoughtfully stares across her office, recalling with a soft voice the memories she has collected over the past 25 years.
But her warm glow conceals the toughness underneath.
Lukow, called Kandy by her coworkers at the Colorado Department of Transportation, was not always signing papers from behind a desk. When she started with CDOT, she found herself in the trenches -- or, more correctly -- in the tunnels.
"I was going to go back to college to be a dietician," she said of her aspirations at age 25.
Instead, she took a job as a cleaning lady at Eisenhower Tunnel along Interstate Highway 70. After just nine months, she became CDOT's second female maintenance worker. The first, Rosemary Bienneman, helped Lukow move up.
"She wanted to be promoted, so she had to find her own replacement," she said. "So she came and found me. I thought, 'I can do that.' And it was paying really good money."
Lukow became a tunnel washer, using what she called the Tunnelsaurus Rex.
"It was this great beast with car wash scrubbers on there," she said.
She also monitored video surveillance of the tunnel, measured trucks and assisted with fire/rescue calls. She was instrumental in getting her maintenance crew up to code on the procedures and then getting them all firefighter certified.
"Figuring out how to spec out a pumper truck, that was great," she said.
Lukow's next step was to an M2, a lead worker for CDOT. She had experience in the position already, as her superior had been sick and she filled in.
"Timing and luck," she said. "You've got to give a lot of credit to those things."
But it wasn't chance that she made foreman just a year later. Overseeing six crews, Lukow was sometimes tested by her male counterparts.
"They tested me a little bit and we talked about it," she said, "and I think they ended up being my best supporters."
Her title was soon changed to supervisor becoming the first woman to fill the position. Three years later, she advanced to senior supervisor in the high country region, where she stayed four years.
She then made some real history. She was promoted to deputy supervisor, a position never filled by a woman in CDOT. She was stationed in Aurora and stayed three years.
"People in CDOT have to move around a lot if they want to move up in maintenance," Lukow said.
In 2002, Lukow made the move to Craig, where she again holds a title never held by a woman. She is the transportation superintendent for an area that covers Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.
She administers the budget for her section, and so far, is enjoying the slower pace of life in Craig.
"It was like coming home," the Front Range native said. "I just love it here."
On top of the friendliness of the people here, Lukow has noticed a difference in the way jobs are carried out.
"What I really love about here is they know how to get things done," she said. "On the Front Range, things seem to happen by magic."
Her favorite part of her career is bringing in new employees, teaching them and watching them grow. She loves where she is and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
"I get to be outside and I get to drive the roads of Colorado and make improvements," she said. "I just can't believe anyone pays me to do what I love to do."