Woodbury's caretaker steps down after 4 decades

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 30, 2012 - 11:34 PM

A fixture in the city's changing landscape, Dick Riemenschneider is retiring after 40 years of public service.

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Dick Riemenschneider has tended to parks and public works for 40 years.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Rebecca Reifler and her dog, Chloe, bounded down the trail to Lake Wilmes in Woodbury, where a man-made stream meanders. It's among more than 125 miles of trails in Woodbury -- and where Reifler, 57, loves to bring her family and friends when they visit.

That's what she told Dick Riemenschneider on a warm, windy morning last week as he toured one of the many park and public works projects he's worked on for the city. It was his final week on the job after four decades of service.

They met by happenstance, and Reifler told him that Woodbury's parks and open spaces are "spectacular." It was one of many thank-yous that Riemenschneider, 65, garnered last week for his work as public works superintendent for the past six years and, before that, as a parks worker and supervisor for 34 years.

He helped plan and build dozens of parks during the city's rapid growth. His many achievements include helping to build and maintain three water towers, a golf course and streets that grew in number from 42 to about 250.

He's well-known locally for the many projects he's been part of, and throughout the Twin Cities and beyond for his service on numerous committees and commissions -- and for his singing in barbershop quartets and choruses.

Still, he likes to say that public works employees "lead a different life," where obscurity can be good.

"When you're in public works, you want to be appreciated but not noticed, because when you do [get noticed], it's maybe that you've turned on a faucet and nothing came out, or that you couldn't get to church because the streets weren't plowed," he said with the little chuckle that's long endeared him to other city workers.

Riemenschneider's story is one as well of the graceful blossoming of a rural township with plenty of corn fields but no stoplights into one of the state's most progressive suburbs, with a tenfold population explosion during his tenure, to about 63,000 residents today.

Last week, on the shore of Lake Wilmes, Riemenschneider explained to his new acquaintance, Reifler, how the creek installation years ago is just one example of how Woodbury spends a bit more money and time to turn routine projects into aesthetic, environmentally sustainable practices.

He told how workers diverted some of the storm water from an underground culvert into the creek, above ground. They lined the sandy creekbed with rocks to stop sediment from flowing into the lake, too.

Reifler said she loves what the city did.

Later, at Ojibway Park, Riemenschneider met resident John Tubbesing, who was walking his pooch, Pepper, past the trees that Riemenschneider planted years earlier.

Learning of Riemenschneider's pending retirement, Tubbesing thanked him for creating and caring for the city's many parks, which increased in number from four to 43 during Riemenschneider's tenure.

Tubbesing, 76, said he appreciates that nearby playground includes equipment for handicapped children. Riemenschneider said Woodbury's done that in all of its outdoor playgrounds.

He seemed interested in finding out from Tubbesing what retirement will be like -- and if a guy could golf too much as he turns his "tension to pension."

An upbeat guy, according to coworkers, Riemenschneider exemplifies how to achieve job longevity. He is quick to attribute it to "inertia." But City Administrator Clinton Gridley said it's really been Riemenschneider's ability to continually improve himself and his work, keep a positive attitude, and adapt to change in all areas of his department, from the heavy equipment in the city's fleet to new environmental practices.

Riemenschneider learned to work with people at all levels of his organization to achieve results, Gridley said.

"He was always open to new ideas and changes," agreed David Jessup, engineering and public works director. "He's been very dedicated and committed to the city, doing whatever needs to be done, putting in whatever time it takes to accomplish it."

Former coworkers note Riemenschneider's willingness to team up with other divisions, such as the joint powers agreement he forged with the division responsible for maintaining Eastview High School's grounds. Sharing equipment and manpower with the adjacent Bielenberg Sports Center saves time and money, they said.

Reimenschneider said coworkers may have differed at times in how they wanted to achieve goals for the city, but they all kept the city's best interest in mind, and that allowed them to move ahead.

"There were no turf battles," he said. With another chuckle.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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