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Not quite ready to say goodbye

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Though his retirement doesn't become official until Aug. 1 -- his last day on the job is July 29th -- Detroit Lakes City Finance Officer Lou Guzek admits that he's already had a few doubts since turning in his resignation letter a week ago.

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"I think I made the right decision -- I've thought about it for quite a while now -- but I just saw that the ad's already in the paper for my replacement, and it started to really sink in," Guzek said Tuesday. "August 1st will be here soon."

Part of the reason why Guzek has moments of ambivalence about his decision is that he isn't one of those people who is just marking time until the day they can walk away from their job for good.

"I definitely will miss coming to work every day," he said.

A native of Dorothy, a small rural village near Red Lake Falls, Minn., Guzek has called Detroit Lakes home since the early 1970s -- and he has no plans to relocate.

"This city has been good to me," he said. "It's been a great place to raise a family."

Lou and his wife Nancy raised two children in Detroit Lakes. Daughter Katie and son Chris are both graduates of the local public school system.

Katie followed her father's footsteps into the financial field, working in the economics field at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, while Chris became an urban planner and lives in Chicago. Both are single, and have no children.

"We don't have grandchildren yet," Guzek said, but added that he expects it to happen someday. "There's no rush."

Guzek is also in no hurry to make post-retirement plans.

"My wife's not going to retire right away," he said.

Lou's wife Nancy works part-time for the Becker County Probation Office, and even though she's in no rush to retire herself, she's already begun putting together a "honey do" list for when her husband does.

"She's got a big list," Guzek said, adding that most of it involves repairs and improvements around the house.

Other than that, he added, "I'm going to relax, maybe for about 6 to 12 months, and then I'll either find a part-time job or do some volunteer work -- something to keep myself busy and active. I think it's important to keep your mind busy.

"I don't have any big plans, except to visit my kids and maybe some other family -- I have a brother out in Tennessee. I also want to do some traveling -- and hopefully to spend two or three weeks (next winter) in a warmer climate. After 64 years of Minnesota winters, it would be nice to get a break."

Some of Guzek's plans may involve spending time enjoying his various hobbies, which include riding his bicycle and "puttering around" in the yard.

"I love gardening," he added. "I might even look at golfing -- I would definitely have to improve my game though -- right now I'm lucky just to hit the ball.

"And I'm an avid sports fan. I love to go to Twins games. One of my summer trips is going to be to visit some other baseball parks."

Guzek has already been to Target Field, the Twins' new home, and was suitably impressed.

"There's not a bad seat really," he said. "It's worth going even if you're not a baseball fan."

But even though he's got a few ideas of what he'd like to do in his post-retirement years, Guzek is still enjoying his last few months with the city.

"It's been a fun 28-year ride -- and it's gone fast," he said. "I'm going to miss working with the people, with the staff.

"I've always had great councils, great commissions and staff to work with," he added, noting that while the final financial decisions are ultimately up to the city council and public utilities commission, "they really appreciate my input."

Guzek's duties with the city have included not only preparing the annual city budget and financial reports, but also the day-to-day accounting work and monthly reports on the city's finances.

Before he came to work with the city, Guzek was employed by the Minnesota State Auditor's office, first in the Twin Cities, and then at the Detroit Lakes regional office.

"Most of our work was field work," he said of his job with the state auditor in Detroit Lakes.

"We audited all the counties in northwest Minnesota."

Guzek got married in 1983 -- the same year he started working for the City of Detroit Lakes.

"We knew we were going to get married in 1982," he said. "I was traveling a lot with the state auditor's office, and Carl Randolph was retiring as the county auditor, so I ran for that position."

But with eight others also seeking that post, "I was eliminated during the primary," he said.

Fortunately, Guzek added, he felt that abortive run for county office may have helped him a few months later, when he applied for the city finance officer's job.

"I've been fortunate," he added, noting that the city position is an appointed rather than an elected one, so he hasn't had to run for re-election every four years.

"I've been very happy with the city," he said.

Since he started working for the city in 1983, Guzek said, the biggest changes in his position have been in the area of technology.

"When I first started everything was still typed by hand," he said -- including all of the city's financial reports.

"We did have a computer in 1983, but there were no PCs back then."

The price of said technology has also become much more affordable, Guzek noted.

"Back in 1985 or so, we bought a couple of word processing machines for $15,000 each," he said.

Guzek has also seen the city's budget grow exponentially.

"In 1983, the city's general fund expenditure budget was $1.7 million -- now it's $5 million," he said.

"The electric utility revenue was $3.5 million, and now it's at $14-$15 million a year.

"The city liquor store had annual sales of $1.2 million in 1983 -- this year, it's over $15 million."

State aid funding, however, has definitely been one area that has seen a decrease rather than an increase -- especially in the last couple of years, Guzek said.

"In 1983, our local government aid was $657,704, out of a $1.2 million revenue budget," he continued. "This year, it was $550,000 out of a $5 million budget.

"At one time it was 50 percent (of the city's revenue), and now it's about 10 percent. I've seen it as high as $2 million, but for the last 8 to 10 years, it's been fluctuating -- mainly downhill."

But one thing that hasn't changed, Guzek noted, is the quality of the people who populate the city offices.

"I'm going to miss working here," he said.

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