Former WPU manager dies
WORTHINGTON -- Don Habicht, who served as general manager of Worthington Public Utilities for 25 years, died early Friday morning after an illness.
Habicht, 68, retired in July 2006 from the WPU post. A Worthington native, he grew up in the family business, Habicht's Department Store in downtown Worthington, and attended South Dakota State University, earning a degree in agriculture. While he was pursuing a master's degree at the University of Minnesota, Habicht joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and his unit was activated in 1968 and sent to Vietnam.
After the completion of his military service, Habicht returned to Worthington and the family business, but the retail climate forced the closure of the store. He went back to school and completed a master's degree in business administration at Minnesota State University, Mankato, after which he taught business and accounting at Worthington Community College. He also served on the local Water and Light Commission, and when the general manager tendered his resignation, Habicht accepted the position on a temporary basis, which eventually became permanent.
During his tenure at WPU, Habicht spearheaded a number of innovations that looked to the future of the city, such as installing all of Worthington's electrical system underground, getting rid of power lines and power poles.
"He was instrumental in pushing to get that entire electric distribution service underground and was very proud of that," said Scott Hain, current WPU manager who became employed by the city of Worthington in 1985 and spent more than 10 years working directly with Habicht. "He was instrumental in the Lewis and Clark project on the water side of things. He served from the inception of Lewis and Clark until he retired on that board of directors, and I don't know how many years on the Missouri River Energy board of directors as well as the Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agencies board."
"He did not live long enough to see it come to fruition, but in the next 10 years, we will have water coming here from the Lewis and Clark project," agreed Mayor Alan Oberloh. "As far as economic development, that will be something that will be in sore need of by that time, so his involvement in that has sure paid off. All the cities that have been involved in this project owe a great deal to Don's efforts."
Habicht also oversaw the renovation of the water treatment facility, demolition of the old power plant; the addition of two substation transformers and related switchgear; the addition of phosphorous removal equipment at the wastewater treatment facility; building of the city's diesel generation plant to provide standby electrical power in an emergency situation; construction of a wind generation project west of Worthington; construction of a 2-million-gallon water storage reservoir and a 500,000-gallon water storage reservoir;and continued improvements to the WPU customer information center and options for utility payment.
"He definitely had a passion for the community and certainly, from the utilities standpoint, trying to make things better," said Hain. "He was also very intelligent, very knowledgeable, very well-read and highly respected by his peers. Over the course of the last few months, actually ever since he retired -- I now go to the Western Minnesota board and the Missouri River board meetings -- and I don't go anywhere without someone asking about Don."
After his retirement, Habicht continued his civic involvement through organizations such as his church, First United Methodist, Worthington-Crailsheim Inc. and the Historic Dayton House. He and wife, Beth, had hoped to do more traveling, but those plans were hampered by the onset of a debilitating illness.
A service will be 11 a.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church, Worthington. Burial will precede the service in Worthington Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Benson Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.