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Goepfert serves as city’s ‘Go to Guy’ for nearly three decades
July 27, 2018

By Nancy Dashwood
Staff Writer

HOWARD LAKE, MN – Tom Goepfert has been working or on-call with Howard Lake’s public works department since April 17, 1989.

Throughout his time on the job, Goepfert has handled many water, sewer, and storm issues for the city and its residents. That’s about to change.

Goepfert has decided to retire from the Howard Lake job in early August.

Native son

Goepfert grew up on a farm northwest of Howard Lake, the middle of three brothers. His summers were spent doing farmwork, and he enjoyed “driving around with cars and cycles,” and being a member of the FFA. He graduated from Howard Lake High School in 1970.

While searching for work, Goepfert kept his ideal standards front and center.

“I wanted a job with long-term possibilities and benefits,’ he said. “I wanted stability.”

A good job right in his backyard

Goepfert said that when he was first working for Howard Lake, he started off with such duties as mowing, flushing hydrants, repairing hydrants, lift station maintenance, cleaning sewers, and working in the city’s parks. “I do pretty much whatever needs to be done,” he said. Back in those days, sludge needed to be dealt with.

Sludgy Start

Goepfert recalled that the wastewater treatment plant was about a year old when his job with Howard Lake began. “My first job was to haul and apply sludge to farm fields,” he said.

Goepfert remembered he had a John Deere tractor and a 1,500-gallon tanker to haul sludge. “That’s all I did the first couple months I was here,” he said.

Lawn mowing and snow plowing also took many of Goepfert’s work hours. He said the city trucks were quite old when he came on the scene.

His first vehicle for plowing the city’s snow was an old Chevy pickup truck with a plow on the front, and a wing on the side.

“The truck had a manual transmission, so I was constantly shifting gears as I plowed,” he explained. He used that truck until 1996.

The first winter he worked for Howard Lake, he got to experience a water main break at the intersection of 7th St. and 9th Ave.

“The bolts on the gate valve in the intersection had corroded,” he recalled, “and the top of the gate valve opened up, leaving roughly a 4-foot by 6-foot hole in the pipe.” It was December, and the outdoor temperature hovered at 20 to 30 below zero.

“We could not isolate the valve,” Goepfert said. “The only way was to shut off the water tower, so we could dig up the water main.

“We shut off the tower at midnight, and dug up the main, but we could not get it repaired in time to turn the water on by morning. So, we had to come back the next night, shut off the water tower again, and finish the repair.”

Goepfert distinctly remembers when the city received 12 to 14 inches of rain over a few short days, which caused sewers to back up. He and his crew worked 30 to 35 hours around the clock pumping sewers, attempting to keep basements sewage-free.

He said that particular effort paid off well – the backup led the city council at the time to decide to complete sewer and water rehab projects in Howard Lake in the ensuing years

Goepfert also remembers the great blizzard of 1991. He and his staff plowed snow for three days straight.

Six mayors and many friends

Since beginning his work for the city, Goepfert has worked for six mayors: Welton Zander, Mark Custer, Gerry Smith, Terry Ostgulen, Rick Lammers and Pete Zimmerman.

Goepfert said he got along well with each mayor, and that he “worked with a lot of good guys over the years, too.”

Hopes and dreams for Howard Lake

Goepfert said that if he were calling the shots, he would see the rest of the sewer and water rehab projects get done.

Specifically, he said, 8th Avenue from Highway 12, south to Haywood Drive, 9th Street from Eighth Avenue going east, 11th Street, from 8th Avenue, and the northwest corner of town. He would also advise city planners to anticipate a water plant upgrade, which should be done sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.

Into the future

Once officially retired from the City of Howard Lake, Goepfert intends to get his cars ready for the McLeod County Fair in August, and enjoy time on his motorcycle.

Goepfert also plans to travel a bit with his wife of nearly 37 years, Paulette. The couple would like to visit four daughters, seven grandkids, three great-grandkids, and one on the way, due in October.

‘I don’t want to sit home all day’

Goepfert’s idea of retirement may be different from other people’s. He fully intends to keep his part-time job with the City of Mayer, and wouldn’t mind adding an additional job.

“I’ll pick up something, someplace,” he said. “I just work to keep busy.” In fact, Goepfert has no intention to fully retire until he is “real old.”

‘I hope they remember I tried my best’

Goepfert hopes that when people think of his work for Howard Lake, they will remember good things.

“I hope that I made a difference in my community,” he said. “I hope that people remember that I, and the rest of the employees of the city, are there to do what is necessary to help Howard Lake grow and thrive.”

“I tried my best, and I was there when they needed me,” Goepfert concluded.

Celebration planned

Paulette will be hosting a public retirement party at the historic city hall in Howard Lake Friday, Aug. 3 from 4 to 10 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Goepfert smiled, “I didn’t want to do anything,” he said of his retirement from the City of Howard Lake. “But that’s all right.”

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