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Forty years, still going strong

Becker County honored employee John Okeson for his 40 years of service. He got his first job as a maintenance worker with the Becker County Highway department.

As a young boy growing up on a large farm in the Detroit Lakes area, John Okeson received an early education in such things as weed spraying and operating big machinery.

It was that early experience that he credits with getting him his first job, as a maintenance worker for the Becker County Highway Department.

"My first summer here, I did a lot of weed spraying," he says.

After that first summer, however, Okeson moved on to a maintenance job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Morris, thinking it was a step up the career ladder.

But a scant seven months later, he was given the opportunity to shift his focus into the engineering and construction aspect of road work -- with Becker County.

"I came back here in September of 1968," Okeson says. "I had a good opportunity to go into engineering, under Vern Korzendorfer, who was the county engineer at that time."

Forty years -- and five highway engineers -- later, he's still working for the Becker County Highway Department. Okeson, who has served as the department's highway maintenance supervisor since October 1975, was recently honored by the county for his four decades of service.

"It doesn't seem like it's been that long," he says.

But Okeson's position has evolved considerably over the years, as he was gradually given more administrative, planning and budgeting responsibilities.

"I have a $4 million maintenance budget, and oversee $3 million plus in equipment," he says. Still, "a lot of my job is the day-to-day (road) maintenance operations for Becker County."

That includes maintenance of 680 center line miles of paved and gravel roads, as well as supervision of all the county's repair shops and traffic services.

"Basically, I'm on call 24/7," he says, adding, "My day started at 3 o'clock this morning."

And yet, Okeson says, he does not have plans to retire anytime soon.

"I could have retired five or six years ago," he adds. "What keeps me here are the people I work with -- they're very dedicated and caring as far as their jobs are concerned."

When he's not working for the county, Okeson also teaches gravel road maintenance courses for the University of Minnesota's Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), and serves as chairman of the Lakeview Township Board of Supervisors.

"I've been on the Lakeview board for 20 years," he says. "I also serve on the Melissa-Sallie Lake Association board."

In addition to this, he operates a part-time consulting business, where he provides road maintenance support for townships and private industries.

Despite being on call at all hours of the day, Okeson does occasionally have leisure time to enjoy his hobbies, which include riding motorcycle, bow hunting -- "I was one of the original members of the Heart of Lakes Bowhunters, and I still belong," he says -- ice fishing and basically any other sport that can be enjoyed outdoors.

"I enjoy being outside," he says. "Growing up on a farm, I was outside a lot, and on this job, I'm outside about half the time -- or at least I try to be."

He and his wife Sharon live on Lake Sallie, where they are frequently visited by their seven children and 17 grandchildren -- "at last count," Okeson says with a laugh. Because they live on the lake, they also spend a lot of hours pontooning during the summer, he adds.

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