John Edlebeck is leaving his position as Waupaca’s director of public works for one of the same reasons that brought him here.
That reason is family.
“It’s hard to leave Waupaca. We raised our family here. We’ve lived here 19 years,” he said. “It’s hard to leave a job you like. But family is why we moved here, to be closer to family.”
When he and his wife Kay moved here from Illinois almost 19 years ago, their four children were young.
They felt like they were returning home, as he grew up in Appleton and she in Whitefish Bay.
On May 1, Edlebeck will become the public works director of Whitefish Bay, a Milwaukee suburb of about 14,000 people.
His last day working for the city of Waupaca will be on Thursday, April 30.
Edlebeck admitted he had not been looking for a new job.
“I haven’t pursued any other position since I’ve been here. I became aware of the position. Kay’s from Whitefish Bay. Her parents live nearby,” he said. “It intrigued me. It caught my attention. I’ve been familiar with Whitefish Bay since the ‘70s. Kay has a sister in Whitefish Bay. I decided to pursue it.”
The fact that two of their children live in the Chicago area, and the other two are graduating this May, one with a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and the other with a bachelor’s degree from Marquette University, also played into the decision to consider a move.
“It’s not that the kids will be in Milwaukee, Chicago forever,” Edlebeck said. “But, we will be closer to larger airports. We want to be able to go see them.”
He looks forward to new challenges, and on a personal level, he and Kay want to get involved in their faith through service opportunities in the Milwaukee area.
“I will have a larger staff with the new position,” Edlebeck said. “I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel challenged here. With Main Street and the public works facility project, I did.”
In regard to those projects, he said there will always be uncompleted projects and challenges when one leaves a position.
During his tenure in Waupaca, he was part of numerous projects.
“There are just so many projects, initiatives and actions that John has taken and/or coordinated over the years that have had a positive impact on Waupaca,” said City Administrator Henry Veleker. “I’m not sure what John would list as his top projects or successes during his nearly 20-year tenure with the city, but I would have to say the bypass, interchange, airport runway expansion project is right up there.”
Veleker said, “From the very first day he started with the city, he worked on making the bypass a reality. He played a key role in getting two state agencies (Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Bureau of Aeronautics) to coordinate their respective projects, which was not initially the case. Through better project coordination, it was estimated at the time that there was a $1 million project savings.”
Edlebeck said that was one of the biggest projects he worked on here.
Numerous stormwater projects also took place in the city, under his direction.
“John will be the first to tell you that his success is not really his but that of all the folks that work with him. That’s the kind of guy John is,” Veleker said. “He is a team player, and he has always stepped up to help carry the load, in many cases taking on tasks and responsibilities outside his normal duties as the leader of the Public Works Department. He never complained.”
Edlebeck said working with the public works employees, and the rest of the city staff, “has been the most rewarding.”
“I feel good about the division heads in the Public Works Department under me. They are strong leaders and experienced, confident in leading their divisions,” he said. “They will serve the city well in the change in the public works position. I feel confident that they’ll be able to do a great job for the city. That’s important.”
Edlebeck said he will miss being involved in the community.
“Probably what’s most impressive is John’s involvement in the community outside of work,” Veleker said. “He will not only be missed by our organization but the many community groups he has been affiliated with.”
In addition, the Edlebecks were foster parents to a total of 17 children while they lived here and will miss them as well.
“It’s hard to leave a community you like and a job you like, but I think it’s the best decision for us in the long run,” he said. “I think what makes the community special is the people. That’s what we’ll miss, but we’ll also be back.”
Veleker said working with Edlebeck was a pleasure.
“He always carries himself professionally, and his skill set is unmatched as far as I’m concerned,” Veleker said. “I joke with John when I say that he is the first engineer that I have met who can think out of both sides of his brain, but I truly mean it. There’s a reason that in 2013, he was selected as one of the Top 10 Public Works Officials in the entire country.”
Edlebeck appreciates the support he received during his tenure here.
“I appreciate all that the city has offered me, the opportunity to help improve the community through public works,” Edlebeck said. “That support has been invaluable and greatly appreciated.”