WORTHINGTON — After graduating from Worthington High School and going off to college, Dwayne Haffield didn’t plan on returning to his hometown.
Now, many years later, Haffield is marking his retirement after a 42-year career with the city of Worthington. Haffield’s last day as city engineer was June 12.
“Leaving college, I would have never imagined being here,” Haffield said earlier this week. “But I like small towns more than the metro, and I was anxious to get out of that.”
A return home
Haffield had pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1977 with a degree in civil engineering. He then spent a year working with the consulting firm Jones, Haugh & Smith in Albert Lea.
“Then the assistant city engineer position came open, and I was asked to apply for that,” Haffield recalled. “The city engineer hadn’t had good luck … he called me on the second round. I knew from part-time work for the engineering department that it was going to involve more responsibility, so I decided to apply then.”
Haffield described his assistant city engineer position as being more about actual design and construction supervision than the city engineer post, which he described as more administrative. He also benefited from some on-the-job training soon after first being hired.
“Actually, right after I took the job as assistant city engineer, I became the whole department for a while,” he remembered. The city engineer, Craig Ebeling, went to a consulting firm, and there were also technicians who had just left.”
Eventually, Gary Brown was hired as city engineer, but by 1980 he was moved up to the city administrator position, leaving the city engineer job open once more. That was about the time that Haffield was going to be eligible for required licensing, so he was able to earn the promotion.
Forty years ago, Haffield said, the city engineer duties were performed much differently than today. As has been the case in almost every profession, technology has revolutionized things.
“Everything was manual, if you will,” Haffield said. “Drafting, for example, was on the drafting table. ....Programmable calculators were one of the early steps up, and then of course everything went computer.
“The first computer I used for the job was my personal computer, as the city really didn’t have them at first. I also wrote a program I used to calculate rise, falls, what the grade of the street would be. That little BASIC computer program was pretty crude, but compared to programmable calculators it was a big step up.
Nowadays, everything is absolutely done on a screen, and design is all computer-aided design. Haffield didn’t have to leave his desk anymore, he said.
Haffield has worked with city staff and countless others over the years to shape the community of Worthington’s infrastructure in several ways. Even though the work was done decades ago, he still looks back fondly on one project in particular.
“I think the really fun job, if you will, was the bike trail through Olson Park — that was years before the trail became as vital as it is now,” he explained. “The trail took off from Summit Avenue, then looped over the bridge at Sunset Park. That would have been in the late ’70s, early ’80s.”
Haffield also pointed to the city’s multiphase flood mitigation as having significant benefits to the city, as “it will start a process of not only reducing the floodplain, but also be a stepping stone to take care of some localized problems.” He also looked back on how Oxford Street was updated, adding that another improvement in one of Worthington’s primary thoroughfares is on the way.
“Oxford Street was transformed from a four-lane with a grass median to the way it is now … it had been more of a rural highway that commercial development had built upon that had been Highway 16 at one time. It didn’t have a curb and gutter on the outside.”
Haffield also highlighted improvements on West Shore Drive and West Lake Avenue, and modifications to get the bike trail continued along First Avenue Southwest, as work he fondly recalls. He also is proud to have been part of the downtown renovation project he said took place around 1998.
“That was a nice transformation of downtown, and it’s nice to see how well the monuments have been taken care of — that they’re still looking new.” he said. “(The work) was mostly the streetscape, which was a big issue at the time. It involved the streets and sidewalks — unfortunately, there’s still some work to be done along parts of Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue.
“Another big infrastructure project was Cherry Point,” Haffield added. “Liberty Drive, Pershing Boulevard, Betty Avenue, all those over there were gravel roads, and over the years they all got paved. I think that really helped change that neighborhood.”
Family (and more) time
Haffield, who married wife Carol in 1979 — one year before he became city engineer — remembered working for just four mayors during his tenure: Harlan Owens, Robert J. Demuth, Alan Oberloh and Mike Kuhle. The city’s engineering department staff, meanwhile, has grown by one person to a total of 6½ (the half being a shared position) over the decades.
But while Haffield said he’s thankful for the department staff he has been able to work with over the years, he’s now left City Hall behind. Carol is now retired from her position as a preschool teacher’s aide (her retirement started early due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The couple has a daughter, Mariah, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska and is employed as an Assistant Attorney General with the State of Nebraska.
Even though Haffield’s no longer working for the city, he still admitted that he’s going to have plenty to do — though he plans to make some time for golf.
“I’ve got house projects, yard projects, hobby projects,” he listed. “It has been a busy few days already.”