With 34 years under his tool belt, Dale Kidwell is retiring from the Town of Herndon.
The outgoing utilities maintenance manager said he decided about three months ago that he had had enough. So on May 30, Kidwell will leave his post after 34 years and eight months, not to mention three different town shops. "I just couldn't quite squeeze out 35 years," Kidwell deadpanned.
After nearly three and a half decades of traipsing through town sewers, clearing snow and fixing broken water mains, Kidwell says he is looking forward to a little time off to spend with his wife of 30 years, Karen, his two children Dale, Jr. and Tara, and his two grandchildren. But this work-a-holic can't quite picture himself sitting on the porch all day. "Eventually, I will go back and do something," he said. "I just don't know what that is quite yet."
RECENTLY NAMED the town's public works employee of the year, Kidwell was honored at the April 22 Town Council public hearing for his service to the Herndon community. "That felt real good. It was very special," he said. "It means a lot because you realize that you are doing the right thing."
"These are the guys that do everything else," said Councilman Dennis Husch. They are the one we depend on and, in this town, their deeds don't go unappreciated."
Mayor Richard Thoesen praised Kidwell for his 34 years of service and dedication to the Town of Herndon. Like all of the town's unsung public works officers, Kidwell, Thoesen said, is a "first responder." Dave Kochendarfer, the town's acting public works director, called Kidwell a "walking water and sewers database," and said that Herndon will miss his talents, expertise and top-notch customer service when Kidwell officially retires next month.
Born and raised in Herndon, Kidwell graduated from Herndon High School before enlisting in the Army. When his brother was lost in Vietnam in 1968, the United States would not send Kidwell over to fight. Instead, Kidwell signed up for a tour of duty with his hometown. "I thought it was just going to be a temporary little job," he said, smiling. "I guess I was wrong."
After about five years, Kidwell decided he could make a career with the public works department. In the early years until the county moved in, Kidwell also served as a volunteer firefighter. "I realized I liked it. It was challenging," he said. "Everyday was something new."
AFTER NEARLY 35 YEARS, Kidwell knows the Town of Herndon inside and out, literally. At the time he started, Kidwell was one of about 10 full-time town laborers. There are 32 in Kidwell's section alone, today. When he started, there was one trash truck and no recycling program. Today, there are seven trash trucks to carry the nearly 40 tons of trash produced in Herndon on a daily basis and the cans, bottle and paper from the town's recycling program.
And along the way he said he has met some amazing people whom he will miss, he said. While everyone may not know him or his fellow public works employees by name or understand exactly, "what's involved in getting the water out of the fountain every morning," Kidwell said that, by and large, the residents appreciate the work they do. "We've had a lot of cases where we will be working at night and neighbors bring out cookies to the workers or police bring coffee," he said. "It's stuff like that that I will miss.
"One thing I am not going to miss, however, are the calls at midnight," he said. "Every time I hear a phone, I will probably jump."
His advice to his successor is simple. "Just try to be fair with everyone," he said. "And promote from within whenever possible."