From teenage carhop to city administrator for most would be a giant leap, but for Barb Nelson it was only a matter of natural progressions.
After working for the city of Spring Lake Park for 34 years, 18 of those years in her current position as city administrator, Nelson has submitted her notice to retire.
“There was so much to do, I never got bored,” says Nelson, who describes herself as detail oriented.
Daniel Buchholtz, assistant to the city administrator, will take Nelson’s place.
Among her many responsibilities, Nelson manages records, runs elections as a certified municipal clerk, prepares official documents and, as treasurer, she oversees the city’s finances.
She is also the human resources person and zoning administrator for the two square-mile city with a population of about 6,400, a city that over the years has become her second home, she said.
“She has the patience of Job,” said Cindy Hansen, mayor of Spring Lake Park.
Although she’s been bombarded with often-asked questions, she patiently addresses community members and the city council’s concerns.
“She’s a wealth of historical knowledge,” said Hansen, who is in her third year of serving a first term in office. “This was back before we had ways of recording everything. She could tell me why things came about with insight and knowledge of the issues.”
Among her professional accomplishments, Nelson names improvements to the city’s infrastructure. That would include the pavement management plan with the city streets’ new concrete curbs and gutters and the replacement of a lift station and renovated water towers. And under Nelson’s leadership, the city is now in the process of replacing its sewer linings.
Additionally, the city boasts a stable work force and it has developed a plan for financing sources for capital purchases.
During retirement Nelson said she plans to travel with and help her husband, Glenn, who designs and sells church furniture.
She met Glenn when they were in high school at Spring Lake Park. They were tagged as the high school’s sweethearts couple in their yearbook. The Nelsons have been married for 46 years and have an adult son, Adam.
Her first “real” job
Nelson’s first job was as a carhop at the long-gone Frost Top drive-in at Central Avenue and Osborne Road. She started work at the age of 15 and stayed for two summers.
“I loved it,” Nelson said. “It was my first real job. I got paid. I got to see a lot of kids I went to school with.”
Her first job out of high school was at Northwestern Bank (now Wells Fargo) in Minneapolis, where she worked in a steno pool.
She has worked as a manager of printing at NAPCO in Hopkins and later in mid-management at Fingerhut Corporation in Minneapolis.
At the time, she had been looking for employment closer to home.
“When I saw a job here for the city, I thought that would be perfect,” Nelson said. “I had worked for the board of directors at Fingerhut. I didn’t think it was that much of a leap.”
Nelson’s first job in Spring Lake Park was city council secretary. She moved up to deputy clerk, followed by working as administrative assistant to the city manager for seven years. Nelson was promoted to city administrator, clerk/treasurer on Donald Busch’s retirement after having served the city for 30 years.
When Nelson leaves her current position, she will miss her fellow workers, many who have become dear friends. She, most likely, will miss having a routine, she said.
But she won’t miss having to be somewhere at a specific time, nor will she miss the evening work, amounting to, at times, two and three days a week, she said.
Former Councilmember Barbara Lee Carlson worked with Nelson for about 25 years, 22 of those years serving as a city council member.
Carlson speaks of Nelson as very fair, hard working, dedicated and businesslike. Someone who learned the job from the ground up.
“She kept her nose to the grindstone,” Carlson said.
If she didn’t know a law, she would get right back to you, according to Carlson.
“As far as I was concerned, she was my go-to person,” Carlson said. “She just gave us all of the facts, and I think, for a city, that’s an important way to be.”
During her lengthy tenure, Nelson has seen many changes. Technology in particular. When she first started, the city had no fax machines, no computers. Mimeograph machines and carbon paper were the work-saving devices of the day.
Throughout the years Nelson has seen federal and state mandates increase, regulations for storm water runoff and mandatory police recordings of interactions with suspects, for instance.
Also, public respect and trust toward government has declined, according to Nelson. “There used to be more respect,” Nelson said.
Nelson has been working on a phased-out retirement plan since July 15, 2012. At that time, she began cutting her full-time work schedule back to 20 hours a week.
In retirement Nelson also plans to do some gardening, entertaining, reading and spending more time with the family’s three-year-old mini Yorkie, Chester.
“I’m looking forward to going back to being a homemaker,” she said. The couple reside in Blaine. They were Spring Lake Park residents for 40 years.
Buchholtz, who will be stepping into Nelson’s position, was hired as an administrative assistant July 1, 2012.
“The transition of her retirement has been seamless for the council and for Spring Lake Park,” Hansen said.
Nelson’s last day of employment in Spring Lake Park is Sept. 16.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]