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Walaker prepares to say goodbye

After 17 years of coordinating Fargo's snow plowing, street cleaning and flood fighting efforts, Dennis Walaker started his last week of work Monday - by serving orange juice.

Walaker addresses city crews

After 17 years of coordinating Fargo's snow plowing, street cleaning and flood fighting efforts, Dennis Walaker started his last week of work Monday - by serving orange juice.

Looking out over about 100 workers ready to tackle their grueling spring Cleanup Week duties, Walaker attempted to rally spirits with a reminder about free food on Friday.

"I hope those traditions continue," he said, his deep voice cutting through the stuffy air in the Public Works building. "I'm officially done Wednesday, but that's the way life is. It's time for a change."

Walaker, 65, retires Wednesday after nearly 32 years working for the city. An open house is scheduled for 2 to 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Public Safety Building at 4630 15th Ave. N.

A native of Leonard, N.D., Walaker attended two years at North Dakota State University before accepting a job with the state Department of Transportation in 1962. He oversaw more than 220 projects, including the conversion of Fargo's 10th Street and University Drive into a one-way pair and the paving of 13th Avenue South in front of West Acres.


He joined the city as a civil engineer in July 1974 and became assistant director of Public Works in April 1989. That year, he established a volunteer litter control program, which he counts among his proudest accomplishments.

His position evolved into Public Works operations manager in 1993 and into his current title, director of operations of Public Works, in April 2001.

Walaker said he's also proud of the city's street rehabilitation and water main replacement program. Only 24 water main breaks were reported last year, compared to a peak of 603 in 1988.

The defining point of his career came during the 1997 flood, which he said turned him into somewhat of a local folk hero as the face of the city's flood-fighting effort. Since then, he's attended more than 150 public events and speaking engagements, which he admits have sometimes rubbed against his Scandinavian reservedness.

"My father came from Norway. We are extremely stoic. We don't cry at funerals. Our laughter is limited," he said.

Bruce Grubb, Fargo's enterprise department director and a 16-year city employee, has often worked with Walaker on water main and solid waste matters. While they occasionally have differences of opinion, Grubb said he's had a nice working relationship with Walaker.

"You know exactly where he stands," Grubb said. "He doesn't sugar coat things for you, and I appreciate that."

Since his days in engineering, Walaker said he's also been fortunate to maintain a close relationship with City Engineer Mark Bittner, often working together in flood situations.


"Mark is a no-nonsense, hard-working, extremely intelligent individual," Walaker said.

Mayor Bruce Furness has convened a group to evaluate whether changes should be made to Walaker's position, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral, who described Walaker as "a street-smart individual that understands how to get the job done."

Walaker, who is running for mayor, said he feels he's leaving behind a strong organization that works hard to meet the public's demands.

"I hope that I'm leaving the place a lot better than I found it," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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