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Wadena Public Works Director Ron Bucholz to retire

Wadena Public Works Director Ron Bucholz poses with what he called his "secretary," a bison head perched on the wall. Bucholz recently announced his retirement, effective May 4. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

After 40 years of working for communities across the state of Minnesota, nearly 21 years of which were spent working for Wadena, Ron Bucholz is finally going to take it easy.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Wayne Wolden reluctantly accepted Bucholz's letter of retirement. His planned exit date is May 4, which is also his wedding anniversary.

Although Bucholz's official title is public works director, he wears a lot of different hats. Besides his main concerns of managing the city's streets, sewer system and parks, Bucholz also has other responsibilities, such as helping out at the airport and serving as assistant weed inspector for the city (an actual position that Bucholz said was mandated by state law).

Everyone from city hall to the city garage had something nice to say about Bucholz. City Administrator Brad Swenson said he didn't like the prospect of having to look for someone who could match Bucholz's expertise.

"We'll lose a lot of experience and know-how, and that's always tough to replace," Swenson said. "I'm going to miss him. He knows his business very well."

City Mechanic Doug Carlstrom praised Bucholz's empowering management style.

"He's always allowed me to do my job," Carlstrom said. "He's been really easy to work with."

Originally from Perham, Bucholz worked for the city of Minnetonka before coming to Wadena in 1979.

"It was the same job I have now. At that time it was called street commissioner," Bucholz said.

After going to work for the city of Red Wing in 1985, Bucholz came back to Wadena in 1997, and has been in town ever since. He said one of the main advantages of working for a city like Wadena as opposed to a larger city was the variety of work. Since public works employees of smaller cities are typically asked to do more types of work than those in larger cities, Bucholz said, that means a small-town worker's career is more interesting.

"You get into a bigger town, you might have four guys just cleaning the sewers - and that's all they do," Bucholz said. "The guys in our town, when they plow snow ... they've still got to come back and do the sewer plant work in the same day."

Bucholz said the biggest change he has seen in the decades he's been on the job has been the technology that city employees use.

"When I first started and I worked for the city of Minnetonka, none of the vehicles - even just the pickups the guys would drive around - there'd be no air conditioning," Bucholz said. "No city crews were allowed to have even a two-way radio in the truck. You'd just go out there and do your job."

Bucholz also said safety precautions have become a lot more thorough since he started.

"Thirty years ago when you'd go into a sewer manhole, you just popped in there. Now we have monitors you can stick down in case there's a noxious gas ..."

Bucholz added that sewer crews also are required to wear a harness so they can be pulled up in case of emergencies.

As for his after-retirement plans, Bucholz said he's looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren. The outgoing public works director also said he'd like to make a few small life changes.

"Maybe I'll take the Weather Channel off my computer, maybe change my cell phone number and see what happens," he said with a chuckle.