Woodbury public works superintendent to retire after 4 decadesWhen Dick Riemenschneider began working for the Woodbury Public Works Department, there were no traffic lights on city streets, only three parks and two miles of trails.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
When Dick Riemenschneider began working for the Woodbury Public Works Department, there were no traffic lights on city streets, only three parks and two miles of trails.
“I have asked several long-time residents and collectively we cannot remember if there was a traffic light at Century Avenue and I-94 or not,” he said.
At that time, he was just exploring his options and trying to figure out what to do for work.
“My thought was that I would take the job until something better came along,” he said. “I guess nothing better came along.”
The public works superintendent is retiring after 40 years, the longest anyone has ever worked for the city of Woodbury.
Riemenschneider grew up in Afton, less than two miles away from District 25, a one-room country school he attended for a couple of years.
Walking to the school that closed in 1955 and is now a home to a Woodbury family, Riemenschneider said there were hardly any parks, trails and the rapid growth the city has seen in the last decade.
Living on his grandparents’ dairy farm, Riemenschneider has had ties with the community his whole life. The 65-year-old was friends with Woodbury’s first mayor Orville Bielenberg, who connected him with the parks department and helped him launch his career.
But he wasn’t always sure he wanted to work for public works.
After Riemenschneider graduated from Park High School in Cottage Grove one year before the new school was built, he went on to attend the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology.
After two years he was drafted to the army where he was sent to Vietnam to maintain a Chinook helicopter that provided mission support to ground troops, artillery units and retrieved other downed helicopters.
“Then I thought that all farm boys needed to have an office job,” Riemenschneider said with a smile.
So after he was done with the army he got a job at Control Data Corporation, where he did some mechanical engineering and marketing work.
But that didn’t last long. He realized he wanted to be outdoors and that just because he was a “farm boy” didn’t mean he needed to be in an office all day long.
“I got tired of walking by the few windows that we had,” he said, adding, “I guess I didn’t know how much a liked being outdoors until I couldn’t be there.”
So in 1971, Riemenschneider woke up one morning and decided to quit.
“Footloose, fancy free, no obligation,” he said.
He didn’t have anything lined up right away. He started working at Wisconsin Dells for the rest of the summer calling himself a “general lacky” as he described the work he did as a cook and dishwasher.
Then he put his farming experience to the test when Bielenberg recruited him to work at Plant Pathology Research and Outreach Center in Rosemont.
Two years later the city of Woodbury had a Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) grant that allowed the council to allocate money for one full-time position.
He applied, interviewed and got the job.
“So I walked in the door on Nov. 1, 1971,” Riemenschneider said.
From 3 city parks to 43
When Riemenschneider started at the city, he was one of seven public works employees and four full-time city employees including the police chief – all squeezed in a 1,200 square-foot city hall that later became the parks garage.
At first he did general park work, plowed snow, flooded rinks and helped with some construction work.
A lot has happened since 1971, Riemenschneider said, as he compared some of the major changes Woodbury has seen:
-The population was 6,200, now it’s 62,000.
-There were seven public works employees that grew to 54 today.
-The city had three parks, now there are 43.
-There were 33 acres of parks and now there are 3,100.
-Trails grew from two miles to 125 and the fleet vehicle number jumped from 22 to 300.
“So there has been some growth,” he said.
At some point, the CETA grant ran out, but Riemenschneider’s job only grew as he participated in the developments that required planning and constructing new park facilities.
The city began funding his job with general fund money and promoted him in 1975 to senior park keeper.
Then in 1989 Woodbury created a park supervisor position that Riemenschneider was promoted to. And when former Public Works Superintendent Frank Gaillard retired in 2006, Riemenschneider got that job.
“He’s very knowledgeable, very forward-thinking, open to new ideas, willing to take on new roles, responsibilities, challenges, and successfully taking on those new roles,” said Public Works Director David Jessup.
Riemenschneider can’t exactly point his finger at one specific situation that stands out the most in his four decade experience.
So much happened that he couldn’t single out one task or project the city has done, he said.
“It’s all been fun,” he added.
But he does know that the public works department will be just fine after his departure.
“They’re all very able, they don’t need my advice to continue doing what they all do good,” Riemenschneider said of his staff.
The city will do some restructuring to fill Riemenschneider’s position.
Instead of having a superintendent who reports to the director, the streets and utilities supervisors will be promoted to superintendent positions.
They will then join the city engineer, fleet supervisor and support staff person to report to the director, he said.
Riemenschneider said the key is to keep the lines of communications open. Every time he stops at City Hall to chat with colleagues at the engineering department or anywhere else, the conversation may start with a simple “Hey, what’s happening,” but ends up with a discussion about a city project.
“Almost always we end up talking about something that wouldn’t have come up if I didn’t stop in and say ‘Hey, what’s happening,’” he said.
Riemenschneider said he’s ready to spend some time with his four grandchildren, play golf during the day, travel with his wife Marge and “polish off his singing style.”
The superintendent by day and singer by night is part of the “Easy Listenin’” and the “Sounds of Renown” barbershop quartets, which he will have more time for once he’s done working full-time.
He’s also looking forward to finding ways to use his public works experience to serve on boards and teach college classes that he couldn’t previously commit to.
“With his experience and knowledge with the city, he’s been a real pleasure to work with,” Jessup said.