Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Detroit Lakes Tribune's Generations magazine, published on March 28, 2021. Pick up a copy today to read more feature stories like this one, or read the full online magazine HERE.
Four longtime city employees with a combined 156 years of experience have either recently retired or soon will be.
Utilities Billing Clerk Linda Riebe, Electrical Lineman Donald Goetz, Accountant Marci Hutchinson and Street Supervisor Terry Stiegel have each worked for the City of Detroit Lakes for 36 years or longer. Goetz and Stiegel retired from their positions in January; Riebe and Hutchinson will be retiring in April and July, respectively.
Utility Services Coordinator Steve Hanson, who’s a longtime city employee himself and has worked with the four recent or soon-to-be retirees in some capacity during his 39 years there, had good things to say about all of them:
“Linda has served the city well and I wish her the best in her retirement,” he said of Riebe. “We will miss the knowledge she takes with her. The knowledge she has in her head is astounding. Ask her a question and she will give you a history of that utility customer.”
Hutchinson, he said, “is one of the best workers I have ever known.” The two would work together when it came time to evaluate assessments, and sometimes figuring out old assessments took some extra work, “but we always had fun getting them right.”
And while he didn’t work as directly with Goetz and Stiegel, Hanson said he always enjoyed catching up with Goetz when they did cross paths, and he appreciated the way Stiegel “always wanted to make sure the correct decision was made and in the city’s best interest.”
Following are three featurettes about the work and lives of Riebe, Goetz and Hutchinson; Stiegel declined to be interviewed.
Linda Riebe: After 45 years, she’s ‘a walking archive of information’
When Linda Riebe moved to Detroit Lakes and took a job with the city right out of high school, she thought it would be just a temporary summer gig.
Forty-five years later, she’s about to retire from what ended up being a lifelong career.
A point of contact for the public for decades, Riebe has met or at least spoken to just about everybody in town -- and she has an uncanny knack for remembering them, by their names and even, in some cases, their home addresses.
Her excellent memory has not only helped her create meaningful relationships with residents over the years, but has also made her the go-to person in the office whenever someone has a question.
“Linda is a walking archive of information,” states a city newsletter from five years ago, when Riebe was recognized for 40 years of city employment. “If we need information on prior accounts, she either has it off the top of her head, or knows exactly where to go to find the information. That type of inherent knowledge is what makes her so valuable.”
“I can honestly admit -- and I’m not bragging -- I can name three-fourths of the people in this town by their first name,” Riebe said in a recent interview. “I think that’s my asset, is my memory for people. Recognizing who they are.”
Riebe started in October 1976 as an Accountant II. She then went on to work a number of different jobs with the city over the years -- including filling in as the municipal liquor store manager sometimes, among other roles -- until returning to her original position, which is now titled Utilities Billing Clerk.
“I’ve done a lot of everything,” she said. “I made that full circle, that 360-degree circle, and then ended right back where I started.”
Riebe takes care of the billing, filing and other administrative duties for the Public Utilities Department. She works with the city’s utilities customers every day, in person as well as over the phone and computer. In 2008, she was recognized for her great customer service with the local Chamber of Commerce’s Super Service Award -- a recognition she's especially proud of.
She’s seen a lot of progression and change over the past 45 years, she said, both in terms of the city’s overall growth and the types of technology used on the job: “Everything has moved forward. When I first started, the utility office was where the police department is now, and...everything was done on paper. Meter readers would go out...and then bring all the books back to me.”
“It used to all be done by hand,” she added. Now, everything is “automatic and computerized.”
Riebe grew up in Pelican Rapids and used to visit Detroit Lakes as a kid every Fourth of July. But she didn’t really get to know the community, she said, until she started working here. It didn’t take her long to love it -- “the community, the public, the people and the area, it’s a wonderful town,” she said. She raised three boys in the area, and has no plans to leave after retirement.
In fact, Riebe wants to become a local hospice volunteer after she retires in April. She said she’ll also continue to be active in her church, Bethlehem Lutheran, and will keep up with her hobbies of sewing (quilts, especially) and making personalized paver stones for friends and family.
Retiring after all these years, she said, is “bittersweet.”
“My life has been this place; it’s like a second family. It’s all I’ve known for 44-and-a-half years,” she said. “I’m going to miss it -- the community, the people, the customers… I have really loved doing what I’m doing.”
Donald Goetz: For 39 years, he kept the lights on in Detroit Lakes
Up and down Highway 10, throughout downtown, and really, everywhere in Detroit Lakes, for nearly four decades, the lights were kept on -- and kept up -- by Donald Goetz.
A Lineman for the city until his retirement January 8, Goetz’s main responsibility was to install and maintain the town’s street lighting. He also put up all those “Welcome to Detroit Lakes” banners that hang from the lights, helped new homeowners get set up with electricity, did service upgrades, and trimmed tree branches away from power lines.
Then there were the middle-of-the-night emergency shifts, when downed trees or bad storms would take out a power line and leave people without electricity, resulting in Goetz and the rest of the team rushing to the scene in an “all hands on deck” effort to help, he said. They’d work through all sorts of weather conditions to make repairs and get people’s lights back on.
Making that happen, he said, was one of his favorite things about the job.
“There is nothing like the satisfaction of getting the power back on,” said Goetz. He also enjoyed “the camaraderie of working together as a group to get the task of that done -- it’s not just done by one person, it’s a group effort.”
“We have such wonderful customers in Detroit Lakes,” he added. “You’d think you’d just get ripped up by people, but people are pretty kind. We have a few customers that aren’t very gracious, but 99% of the time, people are really good about, and appreciate, our reliable power. Detroit Lakes -- especially after what you just saw in Texas -- is pretty reliable.”
Texas suffered major, widespread power outages this winter that have contributed to the loss of many lives and renewed the country’s focus on the importance of reliable power.
Goetz said his long career with the city wasn’t something he originally planned on. A native of Wadena, he came to Detroit Lakes in 1982 for what he thought was going to be a seasonal job. He was on a break from college and wanted to make some money to pay off his school debt.
“I got a pilot’s license at UND (University of North Dakota) but didn’t know if that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
Having previously worked as a tree trimmer for Carr’s Tree Service in Ottertail, the city of Detroit Lakes hired him to trim trees away from the town’s power lines. He did that for eight months, then became a boiler engineer when that opportunity opened up, “just to get out of the trees for a while,” he said.
After about a year, he came back to the trees -- and that time, stuck with it. He liked the work, plus he’d gotten married around that time and wanted a job with steady pay and benefits. After a few years, he took some courses and training at the tech school in Wadena to get certified, and when a lineman position opened up in Detroit Lakes, he moved into that role. He stayed there for the remainder of his career.
“It’s really, for the most part, like a bunch of different families getting together,” he said of what he’s liked best about the job. “All the different departments… I like working with everybody.”
He also liked working outdoors -- except in the extreme cold, he admitted -- and he always loved “going up in the bucket.”
The city’s tree trimmer “is the highest aerial device they have,” he said. He’d go 50 or 60 feet up in the air and look out over the whole city -- soaking up a view he never tired of.
Though his days in the bucket are behind him now, Goetz still gets to view the city from on high as a frequent skier and volunteer member of the ski patrol at Detroit Mountain. He plans to continue those activities in retirement, he said, and will also stay active with his church.
When the weather warms, he said, “my summer job will be to fix up the house, do updates and such.” After that, “we’ll kind of just see how things, as far as future plans, go… and see what life brings my way.”
Marci Hutchinson: 36 years in, she’s seen a lot of growth and change at the city
Marci Hutchinson joined the city of Detroit Lakes’ Community Development Office at an exciting time -- just as they were developing the Washington Square Mall. Getting in on the development and growth of that major downtown project, she said, was a fun and memorable experience.
That was in October 1985. After that, Hutchinson continued to work for the city planning department for about the next decade, and then shifted over to the finance department, where she still is today. She’ll be retiring on July 8, after 36 years of working for the city.
“It was a good fit for me,” she said, describing what has kept her there all these years. “The people I started with back in ‘85, we had the same group of people for probably 25 years. It was just a well-built machine and there was no reason to leave. I enjoyed what I was doing, and it’s a great community to work for.”
In her role as Accountant, Hutchinson takes care of the payrolls, invoices and bills for every city department, and helps with street and utility assessments. She also oversees the city’s rentals, like the City Park Pavilion and shelters at Long Lake Park and Peoples Park, which the public can rent out for special events like weddings and family reunions.
This past year has been a challenging one in regard to rentals because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, but in the past it’s always been a fun part of her job. She’s been doing it for years.
“When I first started, the Pavilion was free and hardly used,” she recalled. “Now it’s booked up pretty much every weekend. It’s interesting to look back on how far that’s come.”
She’s seen a lot of evolution over the decades, especially in terms of community growth and technology changes at the city offices. She remembers the grand opening of the Washington Square Mall and what a big community event that was. There was a similar feel when Kmart opened, she said. She also remembers major remodeling projects at the library, and the Pavilion. Plus, several housing developments and annexations have added to the city’s size and population in recent decades.
“It’s been fun to watch the city grow,” she said. “It’s not just been one thing, it’s been a conglomeration of a lot of things. It’s been a great ride.”
She remembers when she first started, the city had just recently purchased “fancy word processing machines… They were moving away from typewriters. We thought we had hit gold.”
She recalls saving all the city’s files on floppy disks, and printing things out on a machine that was so huge it took up an entire room. These days, of course, the floppy disks are long gone, and the printers are much smaller. That room once devoted to the printer is now Hutchinson’s office.
Hutchinson has worked with three different administrators, three different finance officers, five police chiefs and five fire chiefs over the years. Since she does payroll for every department, she gets to know and work with people from every department, she said -- and that’s been one of her favorite things about the job.
“We’ve had a lot of fun over the years,” she said, and then added with a laugh, “but I’m actually the oldest person here now, so it’s time to go.”
Hutchinson’s plan for retirement is simply to do “whatever I want,” she said. She’s looking forward to having the freedom to do more traveling, especially to visit her grown daughters, who don’t live in the area anymore.
A native of the Benson, Minn., area, she moved to Detroit Lakes with her husband in 1979 and they raised their family here.
“It’s been a great community,” she said.