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Wayne Smith retiring from Nobles County after 25 years

WORTHINGTON -- When Wayne Smith interviewed with Nobles County in 1992, he was asked if he had any questions about the job. He had one. "I asked what the most important part of my job was," he recalled. After the county commissioners put their he...

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Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith will retire at the end of this week after 25 years in environmental work for the county. (Julie Buntjer / Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - When Wayne Smith interviewed with Nobles County in 1992, he was asked if he had any questions about the job. He had one.

“I asked what the most important part of my job was,” he recalled.

After the county commissioners put their heads together and agreed on an answer, they told Smith his job was “to protect the environment - now and into the future.”

It’s a task Smith hasn’t strayed from in 25 years, from his start as a three-fifths time household hazardous waste specialist in the county’s Resource Conservation and Development department to his retirement this week as the county’s Environmental Services director.

Smith began his career with every intention of leaving after earning the required college credits he needed for his business degree. Still farming 400 acres and raising livestock, he actually submitted his resignation four months after he started so he could return to the farm and plant corn.

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His supervisor at the time, Shane Missagia, ripped up the resignation letter and told Smith to go home and plant his corn, but come back when the crop was in the field.

Smith tried to resign another time or two after that, and Missagia refused each time.

“Then he left and the full-time position was open,” Smith shared. “That looked very attractive to me.”

With the way agriculture was trending, he realized he either had to get more land or supplement his farm income by working in town. On April 1, 1995, he was named director of the RC&D, a title later changed to Environmental Services Director.

Smith said reorganization over time brought much change to the department, most notably the closure of the county’s water testing laboratory and a cut in employees from eight to three full-time positions, with a support staff member shared with the Nobles County Highway Department.

Those cuts led to collaboration with the Okabena-Ocheda and Kanaranzi-Little Rock watershed districts, as well as the Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District.

In 2008, all of those agencies collaborated to develop a Nobles County Water Plan, earning them a Conservation County of the Year award from the Association of Minnesota Counties for their teamwork.

“Now we’re doing the One Watershed, One Plan with five other counties, five SWCDs and two watershed districts,” Smith noted. “What we did in 2008 is now a model for what the state does in water planning.”

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Smith is leaving just as the writing of the One Watershed, One Plan is underway. There are other projects, too, that he won’t see through to fruition, such as the centralized sewer project in Reading.

“It seems that every year there’s another project,” he said. “I think I’m leaving the office in pretty good hands.”

Environmental Services staff include Kathy Henderschiedt and Mark Koster, who have a combined 35 years of service to Nobles County.

Among the highlights of Smith’s quarter century with environmental services are the construction of a household hazardous waste facility in 2000, creation of the septic system loan program in 2002, development of the joint jurisdictional committee and ordinance in 2008, completion of an updated sewer ordinance in 2010, redrawing of the county’s floodplain maps in 2014 and completion of a regional, 12-county solid waste plan in 2015.

Smith said his greatest sense of accomplishment, though, was leading the charge on the county’s 2025 comprehensive plan in 2000. The county was one of two in Minnesota to receive a $100,000 grant to rewrite its plan and make it sustainable.

Meetings were conducted in every township and the Southwest Regional Development Commission facilitated the meetings and wrote the plan, which covered everything from water quality to feedlots and transportation.

As part of that plan, the county’s desire to have an ag preservation district were outlined.

“They wanted to save rural Nobles County for ag production,” Smith said. “They wanted large-scale dairy, hog and cattle operations to have room and not be infringed on by new residential construction.

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“I think the 2025 committee really did a good job,” he added. “We had people from 18 to 88 on that (committee). People put in a lot of time and effort - they wanted to make sure that in 25 years, Nobles was a better county.”

Smith said he has enjoyed meeting and getting to know the people of Nobles County, as well as working with commissioners and members of the boards within the environmental services realm.

He will leave the office just shy of his 66th birthday, and one of the first things on his agenda in retirement is to have total knee replacement surgery next week.

Once he’s recuperated, Smith joked that his wife, JoAnn, thinks she will never have to walk down the lane to get the mail, sweep out the garage, rake leaves or mow the yard. JoAnn retired four years ago from the U.S. Postal Service.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some travel,” Smith said of retirement. He also hopes to do more fishing, ice fishing and pheasant hunting.

The Smiths have four grown children and five grandchildren, scattered between Owatonna, Kenyon and Sioux Falls, S.D.

“I’ve got baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, dance contests - they’re a pretty active group,” he said of the youngest generation of his family.

An open house in Smith’s honor is planned from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Nobles County Public Works facility, 960 Diagonal Road, Worthington.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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