Though they are both graduates of Audubon High School, Dean Hendrickson and Brad Grant were not classmates.

“I graduated in 1967,” Grant said.

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“And I graduated in 1972,” Hendrickson added.

But the career paths that each of them took from their childhood years in Audubon somehow ended up in the same place.

For all but seven of his 42 years with the Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District, Grant has worked side-by-side with Hendrickson - and this month, their respective careers there will come to an end within weeks of each other.

Hendrickson, who first started work for the Becker County SWCD in April 1978, as a district conservationist, officially retired on May 2. Grant’s last day as SWCD administrator is May 30.

“We have 77 years here between us… add in Ginger (Flynn, who retired as the district’s administrative assistant in March) and that’s 112 years of experience walking out the door over a three-month period,” Grant said.

But he’s not worried about leaving the SWCD in good hands.

“Our district is pretty well respected across the state,” he said. “We have good relations with both the Buffalo Red and Pelican River watershed districts, and our relationship with Becker County Board is so great.

“Every county board we’ve had has treated this district well - without their support, we would not exist,” he added. “I think it’s mainly about trust - they know if they give us money to do something, it’ll get done.”

The SWCD’s partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has also been strong through the years, Grant added.

“We’ve had about 25 trainees here through the years (including Ed Musielewicz, who is currently the NRCS district  conservationist for Becker County), and a lot of them have gone on to good careers,” Hendrickson said. “I’m very optimistic about our youth.”

In fact, he added, when he first started working with trainees at the SWCD office, he was helping to train them - “now, they’re the ones training me.”

Hendrickson was referring to the changes in technology that have occurred through the years - specifically, the fact that much of their work is now done by computers, where before they used a pencil and paper.

“Brad and I, we’re great face to face, but we’re not really technologically savvy,” Hendrickson said, as Grant made a joking reference to being “dinosaurs.”

When Grant started in the mid-1970s, the majority of conservation work was done in eastern Becker County, assisting land-owners 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, and they also administer the Wetland Conservation Act program for the county. The latter 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 as well. With all those added responsibilities, the office has expanded to include six SWCD staff members, two with NRCS and a couple of other specialists who work with Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

Hendrickson’s duties, meanwhile, have largely remained unchanged - though the methods of doing them have changed greatly.

“Field work has been my main responsibility,” Hendrickson said. - such as designing conservation plans, inspecting construction, tree planting, etc.

“The district is going to miss Dean’s experience, but over time, that niche will be filled,” Grant said.

So what are their plans now?

“I’ll be spending more time with my friends and family, relaxing and enjoying my free time,” said Hendrickson, who though single, has family members living in the area. “I’d also probably better get busy on that ‘to-do’ list.”

“My family all lives around here, so I’ll probably be busy just chasing after them,” Grant said. “I’ll play some golf, and I’ve got a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods planned with the guys from the office.

“I’ll also continue to serve the people of Audubon as their mayor.”

Those who would like to wish Grant and Hendrickson well in their retirement are invited to attend an open house at the Becker SWCD office in Detroit Lakes on Thursday, May 23 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. There will be ice cream and refreshments served.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.