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Keeper of DL streets and parks racked up a lot of improvements

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Keeper of DL streets and parks racked up a lot of improvements
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

For 20 years, Roy Estes has served as street commissioner for the City of Detroit Lakes.

During that time, the city's street and parks department has grown dramatically in its scope and focus -- so much so, Estes notes, that his job title has become obsolete.


"I'm the last street commissioner Detroit Lakes will ever have," he says. After officially retiring from that position on Friday, Dec. 22, he is going to be replaced by a public works director.

"The title (public works director) is more representative of the department as we operate now," he says. "We deal with many different facets of city services."

Besides being responsible for roughly 80 miles of city streets -- more than double the mileage of city roadways that existed when Estes was first hired in 1986 -- Estes' department also oversees the city's animal control program, flood control, storm and sanitary sewer systems, vehicle and building maintenance, parks, the sports arena and ice rinks -- just to name a few.

"We have a public utilities department that handles our water plant, wastewater and electricity -- we basically do almost everything else," Estes says.

But it's the variety of the job that he has enjoyed most.

"There are no two days alike," Estes says. "There are a lot of things we collaborate with other agencies to put together once a year (the Water Carnival and the Street Faire are just a couple of examples).

"I have had a lot of opportunities to deal with the general public, contractors, businesses, other agencies, service groups, elected officials, and work with a variety of different projects... it's really been fun."

"Fun" is a word that comes up often when Estes discusses the work he's done for the city over the past 20 years.

"At times, it's a challenge, but it's really been enjoyable," he says. "They've treated me well here.

"One of the most important things I've had the opportunity to do is to supervise good employees. Without that, you don't get very far... you need quality people to provide quality service, and I'm extremely proud of the service my staff has provided to the people we have worked for. They've been very pleasant and respectful too -- that's made it a real pleasure."

So if he loves his work that much, why retire? It's fairly simple: Estes been working full-time at various jobs since 1969, and both he and his wife Dottie want the chance to experience the benefits of retirement while they're still able to enjoy it fully.

"My wife and I have planned and looked forward to this (retirement) for a number of years," Estes says. "We've both enjoyed our careers -- Dottie in nursing, and myself with the city -- but at the same time, we're looking forward to being able to enjoy our time and not have some of the pressures and daily responsibilities to take care of. We both feel very fortunate to be able to do this now."

Both Roy and Dottie are natives of Tennessee, and their winter plans include "spending some time with the family in the southeast."

Then, in early spring, they will be heading out to Arizona -- "to kind of get away for a while," Estes says. "It's going to be a change. But you've got to cut your ties -- you have to let go.

"That's going to be a little challenging... Just the transition of not going to work every day or having a cell phone with me 24-7, taking calls day and night, there's going to be a period of adjustment."

But once they've made the transition, Roy and Dottie still plan to make Detroit Lakes their permanent home.

"Detroit Lakes is an excellent community to live in," Estes says, noting that they have no plans to move.

Estes says it has been "very gratifying" to be part of so many of the projects that have gone into making DL such a great place to live.

"Snappy Park -- that was a fun project," he says. "The property was donated by Snappy, and my staff constructed the concession stand out there.

"We also built the skate park... that was fun too. The children have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, that facility."

Most recently, Estes' department has been involved in the renovation of the Detroit Lakes Pavilion and the adjacent City Park Bandshell, which were partially paid for by state funding.

"The new bandshell was one of the last things that was on my agenda to do," Estes says. "I really wanted to complete that before I left, and we were fortunate enough to get matching funds from the state for it. I'm very excited to see that facility come together and be ready to go for next summer's activities.

"It's a very nice facility -- we're hoping that it will last a long time.

"I've had the privilege of being involved in a lot of the growth and improvements this city has gone through over the last 20 years... it's those types of projects that affect the quality of life we enjoy here. It's very gratifying to me to have had a part in that."

The project that stands out most in Estes' mind, however, is the Sucker Creek Preserve, which officially held its grand opening this past fall.

"That's been one of my most enjoyable projects... we (Estes and his wife) go walking out there regularly now," he says. "Sally Hausken worked tirelessly on it."

But Estes' first encounter with Hausken, about 10-15 years ago, was not a happy one, he recalls with a laugh.

"We had a complaint that she had noxious weeds and rank growth at her home," he says, noting that the city ordinance at that time did not allow for vegetation (i.e., grass) that was over six inches in length.

"I drove by her property," he says, and based on what he saw at that time, "I sent her a weed notice... big mistake. I was informed that it wasn't weeds or rank growth, it was a place of nature and beauty."

After his first face-to-face encounter with Hausken, Estes noted, the city's ordinance was actually changed to allow for native plants and native landscaping.

"It's one of the bittersweet learning experiences that you get in life," he says. "After that unfortunate event, we developed a very close relationship."

Estes, whose mother was a Detroit Lakes native, spent much of his boyhood summers in DL at the home of his uncle and aunt, Phil and Martha Haaland, which just happened to be near Sucker Creek.

"I would go down there and watch the fish run," he says. So when Hausken first began talking to him about her plans, he was very much in favor of preserving the 60-acre property -- which was at that time being developed for housing.

"If Sally had not had the passion to intervene and preserve this property..." Estes says. "She worked tirelessly."

Today, it's a nature preserve that is officially part of DL's park system.

"It's there for the public's enjoyment, and as an interpretive area for people (hopefully, lots of children among them) to learn and realize the importance of protecting our environment," Estes says. "I'm very proud to have been a small part of making that happen."

It's the challenge of being a part of projects like Sucker Creek that Estes admits he will miss most -- the collaborating with different agencies and individuals to make something happen, even though "there's never enough money."

"On the other hand," Estes says, "there are some other opportunities out there... we'll still be involved somehow. There's a ton of things left to do yet."

Estes also admits that he will very much miss the relationships he's developed with his staff, the various agencies, businesses, service groups and individuals he's worked with, and the city officials he's worked for through the years.

"I'd like to thank all the employees I've worked with, the volunteers, the citizens that live here, the businesses, the city councils and mayors that have served while I've worked here... it's truly been a pleasure," he says. "I've had the opportunity to be associated with some quality people."

Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454