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The challenge of retirement

Since July 1, 1987, Becker County's Human Services Department has been under the leadership of one man. But that is about to change.

Come April 1, Matt Casey will be stepping down as director, ending a tenure that has spanned nearly two decades.

Though he admits to loving his job, Casey also says, "There comes a time when everybody has to step aside... a time that you just feel comfortable with retiring. There are other things in life to experience."

Things such as taking his motorcycle out for a spin on a sunny afternoon. Or traveling the country with his wife of 44 years, Mitsy.

"I love traveling," he says. "There are so many places in the U.S. that we haven't been to."

Though he enjoys visiting new places, Casey says he and Mitsy have no plans to move away from Detroit Lakes.

"This is our home," he adds. Three of their five children -- all girls, and all married -- as well as six of their 10 grandchildren live in the immediate vicinity of DL, while another daughter lives in Farmington.

Their other daughter lives with her family in Massachusetts -- and the Caseys are planning a late spring visit to Cape Cod in order to see them.

As for his long-term plans, Casey says, "I'm going to take some time off and look at all my options."

Eventually, however, he knows he's going to have to find something to keep him occupied -- and according to Mitsy, he joked, "It needs to be something outside the house."

Though he says he is looking forward to new challenges, Casey also notes there are many things about his work with Becker County that he's going to miss.

"I'm going to miss the people around here -- they're all dedicated, and fun to be around," he says.

"That's why I stayed, really. Every day's a challenge -- but I enjoy that. I enjoy (taking on) the issues that come up -- and I really hope I make a difference in people's lives."

Casey also feels fortunate to have worked with county commissioners who were "committed to making life a little easier for those experiencing hardships."

There are one or two things he won't miss that much, however -- such as the constant changes in state and federal legislation that often come about as a result of "knee jerk reactions."

"It's (human services legislation) not always that well thought out," he says candidly.

He also admits to being troubled by the way he sees some children being treated.

"The neglect and abuse they suffer just makes you sick sometimes," he says.

Casey has seen a lot of changes in his department since he started in 1987, after 18 years with Rural Minnesota CEP and before that, three years as an elementary teacher and a short stint as an education supervisor at the Job Corps Centers in both Tamarac Refuge and Chippewa Ranch (in Mahnomen County).

"I started with 44 employees in my department," he says. "Now, we're close to 100."

Part of the reason for that is the fact that the county has placed both its public transit and community health services under the human services umbrella over the course of the past six years -- community health was added just this past year, with the dissolution of the Multi-County Nursing Service.

Casey has enjoyed the challenge of new responsibilities being added to his position over the past 18 years.

"I'm a person who needs challenge, and there are lots of challenges in this business," he says. "You have to like what you do. If you don't come to work in a positive mood every day, then life would really be a bummer."

But that's something Casey has never had to worry about.

"I really like coming here every day -- I've liked this job," he says.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454