Yesterday, March 16, was the 50th anniversary of Chuck Ettleman’s first day as an employee of the Crawford County Engineer’s Office.
Ettleman was hired by former Crawford County Engineer Dale Wight and started work on March 16, 1970.
Wight’s first day as county engineer was just a few months earlier, on January 1.
Ettleman was one of several employees Wight hired to help with a large volume of construction that year.
“I think we had 40 or 50 miles of contract paving and grading that year,” Wight said.
“He needed some help and it didn’t take a lot of training right then to get going,” Ettleman said. “Dale wasn’t looking for a real experienced guy – and he got that.”
Ettleman set a lot of stakes and performed inspections for the road projects.
“I had gone to business school for a year and to Midwestern College for a semester,” Ettleman said. “I was planning on going back to school the next fall, but it was a busy construction season and there was a lot to do, so I stayed on.”
His primary duties for the first few years involved inspection and surveying.
“I did a lot of surveying because in ’75, when we had that bad blizzard, Dale switched over from building bridges and culverts to grading roads, knocking the banks down and getting rid of snow traps,” Ettleman said. “We did a lot of miles back in the late ‘70s early ‘80s.”
Perry Jensen was the assistant in the engineer’s office when Ettleman started.
“Chuck started helping him (Jensen) with the annual report and he was just very good at it,” Wight said. “And that was before the age of computers.”
“I learned a lot working with Perry Jensen,” Ettleman said.
The engineer’s office had to do a detailed budget for the county and one for the Iowa Department of Transportation, Wight said.
Ettleman was good with numbers and, after about three years, he took over the duties when Jensen retired after 43 years.
Wight said the annual report was the hardest thing he had to do as county engineer.
“That annual report was a bearcat,” he said.
After Ettleman streamlined the process and started using a computer for the report, the biggest thing the county engineer had to do was sign it, Wight said.
Ettleman’s skills working with the annual report did not go unnoticed.
“In about 1984 they (the county) switched to a new way of budgeting where you budget by cash but you report by the accrual basis, so there were a lot of changes,” Ettleman said.
“Our auditor asked me to come up and help get that started. We were supposed to get training from the state and never got a lot of training that year. Everybody just worked together and we got it done.”
Ettleman’s duties have included putting together the county budget since then.
For about 30 years he also helped the county auditor set up voting machines. That duty ended in 2002 when the county got rid of the old voting machines that used a lever, he said.
Passage of the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act of 1987 brought additional responsibilities.
As a result of the act, the county’s solid waste agency became a separate entity with its own board.
Ettleman is secretary of the agency, but his duties have been extensive.
“I do a lot of the billing and read a lot of the reports from our engineers,” he said. “There are always issues.”
When Wight retired in 2000, Paul Assman took over as the county engineer.
The new engineer already knew Ettleman, as Assman had dealings with Crawford County when he worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and for Sundquist Engineering in Denison.
“I’ve known Chuck for a long time,” Assman said, “but when I started as county engineer was when I really got to know him.”
Ettleman brings a lot of background experience and knowledge of Crawford County to the table, he said.
Assman said Ettleman is one of the most detail-oriented and dedicated people he has ever known.
“Anything that has to do with numbers, he makes sure that it’s accurate,” Assman said.
One of Ettleman’s strengths is his calm personality.
“He doesn’t get too excited about issues that arise and he’s very patient,” Assman said. “He thinks through things and wants to makes sure that when we move on something that it’s been well thought out.”
“He’s just an excellent employee with a good disposition,” Wight said.
Assman said he was comfortable knowing that he could hand off projects to Ettleman and they would be properly handled.
“Back in 2007 and 2008 we had quite a bit of flood damage,” he said. “He managed through all of the paperwork associated with monitoring the projects and the work, accounting for the work as it was being done and submitting the requests for reimbursements. That was a fairly large undertaking that we had that I knew I could hand off to Chuck and be sure it was all going to be taken care of.”
Ettleman notified the Crawford County Board of Supervisors on February 4 of his intention to retire on April 2.
Asked how he will feel about seeing Ettleman’s empty desk, Assman said, “Actually, he will probably still be sitting there.”
Ettleman asked to continue in the engineer’s office as a part-time employee.
“Certainly he’s going to be missed in the full-time capacity,” Assman said. “He’s been a great asset to the county.”
Ettleman has been an employee that has made Assman’s life easier, he said.
“He taught me a lot over the years about the operations of the county engineer’s office,” Assman said.
“There are a lot of things that go on in the office on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Chuck has touched all of those at one time or another.”
A celebration of Ettleman’s 50 years at the courthouse had been planned for this Friday, but with the ongoing concerns about COVID-19, he insisted that the event be canceled.
Ettleman said he was fortunate to work with two county engineers who worked to improve Crawford County.
“They have both been good about going out and getting extra money so everybody stays busy and we’ve gotten a lot of jobs done,” Ettleman said. “I had a lot of good people to work with and for.”
With his new free time, he plans to spend more time with his daughter and two grandchildren who live here and with his son and wife who are expecting in June.
“I’m sure I’ll be doing some visiting there if they’ll have me,” he said.