Serving the city of Brainerd; It has been a large part of what Brainerd City Council members Kevin Goedker, Lucy Nesheim and Bob Olson know, combining 48 years and seven months of service on the council between them.
But come January all three of them will have closed out their time with the council, attending their last meeting on Dec. 17 before making way for new members.
According to Brainerd Interim City Administrator Theresa Goble, the last time there was a turnover of this many seats in Brainerd was in 1990 when, “(Bonnie) Cumberland was elected mayor, Ray Charpentier was elected Ward 1 alderman — filling Todd Thompson’s unexpired term — Mark O’Day was elected Ward 2 alderman and Kevin Olander was elected Ward 4 alderman.”
And Goedker, Nesheim and Olson are all preparing to close a chapter of public service at the end of the year.
■ Kevin Goedker
It wasn’t an extremely difficult decision, but still bittersweet, according to Goedker who discussed his decision to not run for re-election last November. Citing family issues and an interest in getting back into his realtor business and other things he felt he wasn’t able to devote as much time to, Goedker decided it was time to take a step back.
“Right now I am taking a step bac. I want to see where I can make the best difference,” said Goedker, who added time with family is also high on the priority list with more time, noting that between he and his wife, three of their four parents are battling with cancer. “I have done a lot of things and I need to say no once in awhile.
“I am trying to downsize my obligations and get back to some things that I used to enjoy and not spread myself so thin but instead put my best effort forward to a few things instead of a little bit to a lot.”
Involved in service since a young age, he recalled his parents signing him up to serve Thanksgiving dinners at the Salvation Army. Goedker, 40, has had his hands in many activities in the past. The broker/owner of Goedker Realty Inc., in Baxter, a past president of the council, a member of the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee, past member of the Safety and Public Works Committee, past member of the Brainerd Parking Commission, member of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission, past commandant of the Heartland Detachment of the Marine Corps League, past president of the Greater Lakes Association of Realtors, the federal political coordinator between the National Association of Realtors and Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., a member of the Noon Sertoma Club and a recent graduate of Central Lakes College.
Originally encouraged by Howard “Jiggs” Blanck to run for mayor so he could put his name out there, Goedker lost his first race for a Brainerd city post, but won the Ward 3 seat, where he has served from 2005-2012.
“I have a passion for service and helping people,” said Goedker. “I realize as one person how many people I can affect, but when you are a part of the group doing something, it’s limitless how many people you can affect.”
It’s that group mentality Goedker said he was most proud of when looking back on accomplishments such as keeping the Brainerd Fire Department the way it is and keeping expenses in the city low.
“The way I look at it, we’re not any individuals,” Goedker said of serving on the council. “What has been done in the city is what we have done as a council. The decisions we made...I think we’ve always tried to do what was best and that’s how I looked at every decision. I didn’t have any specific agenda or specific topic. I tried to take the information in as much as I could and make a decision that I thought was best for the city and hopefully that will continue.”
For now, Goedker said the future doesn’t hold any immediate plans to jump back into serving on city committees but it’s the time off that he is going to enjoy to help him figure out the next step.
“The next couple of years will help me determine what is next,” said Goedker of future plans. “I’m just glad that I had the chance to serve on the council.”
■ Lucy Nesheim
Nesheim said as she sat down to prepare for the Dispatch interview, she became reminiscent of things she long had since forgotten; 24 years of service to a city contains a lot of memories and accomplishments, she said.
“When I sat down and got to thinking of all the things we (the council) have done, it was a rush of memories and some of it still seems like yesterday,” said Nesheim. “Some things I had almost forgotten about and I would bring them up to people who were involved and they would say ‘Lucy, that was 20 years ago,’ and I would think yeah, I guess it was.
“But it’s been an honor.”
Hailing from St. Paul but spending her adult life in Brainerd, including running a bait shop — Nesheim Bait and Tackle — with her husband, Frank, for 35 years, Nesheim has been active in city service for nearly as long. The 75-year-old served on the Brainerd council as an at-large official from 1989-2004 and as Alderman to Ward 1 from 2005-2012, along with service as council president during her tenure.
During that time, Nesheim said she helped accomplish a lot, many of the achievements she felt particularly close to.
“The retention of the (Wausau) paper mill, College Drive and future park expansions I am particularly proud of,” said Nesheim. “The paper mill helped the job and economy growth in the area. One of my main focuses was economic and business growth in the area and I am really proud to have helped with that.
“Jaycees Park, bike trails, Buffalo Hills Trail and Lions Park, I am also very proud of.”
A bike enthusiast herself, Nesheim said she saw bike trails as an economic boom to the area and said she is excited about the continued growth of both parks and trails in Brainerd.
Nesheim also played integral roles in the renovation of the East Brainerd Mall and downtown revitalization, the joint effort with Baxter for the wastewater treatment project, the four-stage expansion of the industrial park and securing the Alm property for future park expansion and connection to the Paul Bunyan Trail and beginning the airport expansion in 1999 with new runways installed in 2004. Additionally she supported the city transit system and the dial-a-ride.
And while she tried to have “a finger in everything,” Nesheim said none of it could have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the council, city staff and community that voted her in.
“It can be hard sometimes, but we all worked together and worked hard to accomplish some of these projects,” said Nesheim. “Some projects I am more proud of than others but it was a team effort and I have to give credit to my fellow council and city staff.”
Nesheim said she plans to continue being involved, addressing her interest in the upcoming open seat with the Brainerd Public Utilities Commission where she currently serves as council liaison. Still, she hopes to find more time to spend with family, traveling and get back to oil painting, something she said she is going to have to retrain herself to do.
Nesheim said she is grateful for her time serving, and for the people she was able to serve with.
“I can’t say enough of all of the people I have worked with,” she said with a smile. “I want to thank all the council, committee members and city staff who have served long hours with little thanks. They help make the city a better place also.
“We really have accomplished much, getting controversial at times, but it’s all with the same idea of bettering the city and I really do believe we did that.”
■ Bob Olson
Olson admitted that it was a shock when the November election results were announced and his name was not assigned to his at-large seat. The top vote-getter in the 2008 elections, Olson said after letting it sink in, he knew things would be OK.
“I was confident I would be re-elected,” said Olson, who served on the city council for more than 12 years. “But I am a Christian man, and I knew that God had another plan for me, and I truly believe that.”
Olson served the city as an at-large official from June 1975 until Dec.31 1977 before coming back to serve as mayor from 1989-90. Another hiatus before his longest term, back as an alderman at-large from 2001-12.
Heading the Safety and Public Works Committee as chairman, Olson said he is most proud of all the construction work he helped accomplish around Brainerd. Projects including city-wide sidewalk construction, Bane Park reconstruction to include roads and parking lot, downtown Brainerd reconstruction of the infrastructure and while he didn’t support the College Drive Project, he said he is still happy that his committee and council were able to accomplish it.
One of the largest constructions that Olson invested in was the Brainerd Area Civic Center, in which he forged the way for the arena beginning in 1976 to give the high school team and area kids an indoor rink to skate on.
“My kids skated,” said Olson. “And I was the volunteer GM (at the civic center) until the city took over in 1996.”
Helping to save the taxpayers money is another service he was proud to have accomplished, estimating that he helped save taxpayers about $900,000 in tax levies during a 10-year period when he recommended borrowing $1 million for 2011 street improvements rather than accepting the finance department’s recommendation to spend $1,795,000 for the improvements.
“I really have to thank all the council and staff for the support they gave in accomplishing the projects and money saving that was approved,” said Olson. “By approving those recommendations we were able to save the taxpayers and community money and improve the community.”
Olson said serving the council of course wasn’t without difficulty and even regret.
“I know some criticism was raised over my information requests,” said Olson. “But I was only doing my duty as an elected representative, monitoring city finances and informing council. The facts speak for themselves, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Olson added that despite his own criticism of Goble in the past, he said he truly believes that she would be the best city administrator and said had he been re-elected, it would have been his official recommendation to make her city administrator.
So what’s next for Olson?
“The calendar says I am 86, but my energy level and brain cells don’t reflect that,” said Olson with a laugh. ‘And I don’t plan on being a couch potato; Cathy (Olson’s wife of 63 years) wouldn’t tolerate that and neither will I.”
Cathy chimed in, “I think he’s going to be cleaning more house.”
While no immediate plans are set in stone, Olson said he has every intent of staying involved in city and community action, possibly starting with downtown renovations and considering some upcoming open seats with commissions.
Overall though, Olson said he was happy to serve the city to the best of his ability. A city that he said had given so much to him and was happy with all of the people he served and worked with to do it.
“I want to thank and commend all of the wonderful and dedicated hourly employees that work for our city,” said Olson with a smile. “I want to thank and commend the council members...all of us can be very proud in the way we represented the citizens who entrusted us with their city.
“I will miss each and every one of you, but will always have the grand memories of what we were able to accomplish for our citizens.”