Oelwein Public Works Director Vic Kane has been marking off his “lasts” for the past year — the last fall clean up, last winter of snow removal, last cold snap of water main breaks and repairs, last pothole complaint.

After 41 years of working in the city’s Utility/Public Works Department, Vic also marked his last City Council meeting Monday night.

While his presence at Council meetings was usually to help explain work, issues or expenditures, this time it was to be lauded for his years of service. City Administrator Dylan Mulfinger took the opportunity to give a light-hearted roast to the retiring Public Works Director, noting that Kane will surely miss their meetings and the plethora of items that are attached to the job. Members of the Council also thanked Kane for his dedication to the city over the many years and his commitment to making it the best it can be.

In a recent visit with Kane, he recalled he got a job with the city through the WIN program working in the water department. His first assignment was digging out the creek. That was in 1980. For the next seven years, Kane continued to work for the city, before moving to New Hampshire for a couple years.

He and his family later returned to Oelwein, and he went back to work for the city in August 1989. Ten years later, he was named Utility Department Superintendent. Last year, the title was amended to Public Works Director as the utilities became Public Works.

“When I came on, it was strictly the Water Department. Then it became combined with sewer,” Kane said.

Over the years, he has attended a multitude of classes and testing to maintain city and state requirements for his job. He said every one of those classes and tests taught him a little bit more and became invaluable when Oelwein’s new wastewater treatment plant was built in 2005. He refers to the plant as one of the most important advances in the city.

“We would not have the industry now if we hadn’t gone forward with the new wastewater treatment plant,” Kane said, noting the Transco wash basin, East Penn Manufacturing, and DCW (formerly Iowa Ham and then Abraxis) among the industrial benefits from the new plant. Some of the other upgrades to the city’s water/sewer have included a big booster system for water pressure, rehabilitating the wells, conversion from gas to liquid chlorine, and repairing the 1980 well at Third Avenue and Sixth Street SW.

“Now we are getting underway with a reed bed expansion that will double the size of our current reed beds and a new EQ liner for the equalization basin that manages overflow from major storm events,” he said. “Water use locally has increased, that is something the next guy (Herb Doudney) will have to keep an eye on.”

Then there are the “forever chemicals”— lead and copper — that the EPA has placed stricter regulations on following the Flint, Michigan water issues. He said those things are continuously monitored.

Watching the weather has also been an important part of Kane’s job.

“There were times when Jean (wife) and I were in Waterloo or somewhere else out of town and we would have to hurry home because bad weather was in the forecast,” Kane said. Tornadoes, floods, drought, frost — all are factors related to the job.

“We’ve been proactive about water main replacements and that has helped stem break issues,” Kane said, noting that this spring was pretty normal.

As far as working with the governing part of the city, Kane said he had to learn how to present needed equipment and projects.

“You get used to talking about a million dollars like it’s a hundred. It’s a balancing act, knowing what you really need and what the city can afford to help you get,” he said. From George Aliano, Beth McFarlane, Ben Levin, Gene Vine, Larry Murphy, Jason Manus, and Peggy Sherrets to Brett DeVore, Kane has faced each of the eight Oelwein mayors during his career with the same honesty and attention to detail when discussing the city’s needs.

“As a whole, I didn’t play that much into the political scene, but Murphy was probably the most influential as far as long-lasting projects that are still working today,” he said of the city’s leaders.

Kane said probably the biggest misconception of his department is that people think there are 30-40 employees when there is only a dozen between the water/wastewater and street crews.

“It’s a good staff and Herb will do a good job,” he said, talking of his replacement. “One thing about it, each day is different, so if you like variety in your job, you could love this one.”

“I’ve always liked the work and the people. I don’t think residents realize how nice our system is here,” he said. “We always try to keep the city moving forward and having a vision for its future.”

Kane summed up the work of the Public Works Department as “the guys behind the scenes” in something he wrote a number of years ago:

“If we do our jobs properly, we are just background noise. Preferably not noticed taking care of the day to day needs of our residents and visitors. Carefully picking up the pieces and putting them back into place. While navigating the city through an unknown future. We are: The unnoticed hand that guides! The watchful eye that protects! The shoulder to cry on in times of trouble! The ones that meet crisis head on and lift the City back to normalcy! We are Public Servants!”

“I’ve always believed this and the fact you treat everyone the same no matter what their perceived station in life is,” Kane said. “From the fun of working on things like the design of the two water tower paint schemes and the new city logo, to the tedious weeks of cleanup from floods and wind — I have enjoyed this job.”

Kane said his first task after retiring will be to work his way through the “honey-do stuff,” and make a couple trips.

“I have a friend who retired, and it took him four years to get through his honey-do list,” he said. “I better get started.”