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Grant honored for service by SWCD

THE BECKER COUNTY SOIL & WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICT SUPERVISORS honored District Administrator Brad Grant at their Sept. 22 board meeting for his 40 years of service to the SWCD. Those on hand for the presentation included (left to right) Supervisors Tony Beck and Duane Grossman; Brad Grant; Supervisors Don Lefebvre and Jerome Flottemesch.

For 40 years now, Brad Grant has been taking care of the soil and water conservation needs of the citizens of Becker County -- and despite a few rumors to the contrary, he's not making any retirement plans just yet.

"It's an enjoyable job," says Grant, who was honored by the Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisors for 40 years of service at their Sept. 22 meeting.

"In this job, you get to work directly with the landowners," he adds. "You develop relationships with a lot of people and you're helping them to accomplish something that they really want to do -- that's the rewarding part."

A Fargo native, Grant was the youngest of eight children.

The family moved to Detroit Lakes in 1957, and a year later, to a farm north of Audubon.

The family raised and milked dairy cows on their rented farm, until the owner decided to move back to the area in 1963, and the family moved to a home in Audubon.

After selling off the cows and moving into town, Grant's father managed the Big 5 Co-op in Audubon (now Orton's) from 1963 to 1967, when he was felled suddenly by illness.

"I graduated in the spring of 1967, and he died that fall (in October)," said Grant, who had taken over the management of the store during his father's illness.

Abandoning plans to attend college in Crookston, Grant continued to manage the store for Cenex for a couple of years, until it was sold to Cameron Haukedahl.

"I worked for him (Haukedahl) until 1970," Grant says.

It was then that he learned of an opening for a district aide with the Becker County SWCD.

He was interviewed by Wayne Ruona, who was the district conservationist at that time

"It was Sept. 10, 1970, when I started," Grant says. "I was the first full-time district (SWCD) employee."

Ruona actually worked for the federal government, as did the technician who worked out of the same office.

The only other employee in the SWCD office was a part-time secretary, Bonnie Bristlin.

"My role was to assist the federal office in putting conservation practices on the ground, and I managed the tree program," Grant recalls.

Just as it is now, a five-member board of supervisors governed the overall operations of the SWCD at the time Grant started.

Ruona retired as district conservationist in 1972, and Lee Johnson took over the position in December of that year.

It wasn't until 1977, when the state approved an appropriation of $1.5 million for a statewide cost-share conservation program, that the SWCD began to take on more responsibility for local conservation practices.

"Our first allocation was about $20,000 a year," says Grant, noting that about 20 percent of that was allocated to personnel and operations, with the remaining funds earmarked to cost-share with county landowners on implementing conservation practices.

In 1978, the federal position of district technician was eliminated, and "the district (SWCD board) decided we needed another technician," Grant says.

He became district administrator, and Dean Hendrickson became the district technician in September 1978.

Bonnie Bristlin had left the position of district secretary in 1973, and was replaced by Alice Owa, who served in that position until 1977. Ginger Flynn was then hired in September 1977, and "she's still here," Grant says.

Though there hasn't been a lot of turnover in Grant's department since he became SWCD administrator, there have been a few changes.

When he started in the mid-1970s, the majority of conservation work was done in eastern Becker County, assisting landowners in the design and installation of ag waste systems, on a cost-share basis with federal and state programs.

Eastern Becker County continued to be the focus of the SWCD's cost-share efforts until the 1990s, when there was a shift toward erosion control and improvement of surface water quality.

"Since 1989, we've administered the comprehensive local water plan for the county," Grant says.

"We administer the Wetland Conservation Act program for the county," he added, noting that this state program focuses on the prevention of draining and filling in of wetlands.

In 2006, Grant's office also took over management of the county's ag inspection program, and those duties are now handled primarily by Marsha Watland.

"We've been really proactive on ag inspection," Grant says, noting proudly that his department has written applications for, and received, about $160,000 in state and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Foundation grants to administer the program since that time.

Grant, who will be 62 this fall, says that while he won't continue with the SWCD indefinitely, "I'm not ready to leave yet."

When he's not working, Grant and his wife of 42 years, Karen, enjoy spending time with their family, which includes three daughters, all married, and seven grandchildren, all of whom live close by, in Perham, Fargo and Audubon, where Grant himself still lives.

Though he has been active in many local civic organizations, including 21 years with the Audubon Fire Department, 14 years on the Audubon City Council and 12 years on the Sunnyside Care Center Board of Directors, Grant says he's "cut back on that" a little bit in recent years.

Though he still serves as chairman of the Sunnyside board, he has retired from the fire department and is no longer on the city council.

As for leisure activities, Grant says, "I play golf. I'm not that good, but I enjoy it."

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