New Ulm water/steam supervisor retires

George Brown had position for 10 years, worked decades across the midwest

After decades working with cities across the Midwest, George Brown retired Jan. 15 as New Ulm’s Water/Steam Supervisor. Brown said he is looking to stay busy during his retirement, currently building kitchen cabinets for his home.

NEW ULM — After decades of service to towns across the Midwest, George Brown retired Jan. 15 after 10 years as New Ulm’s water/steam supervisor.

Brown first entered the city water sector as a wastewater worker for the city of Des Moines in 1974. After graduating with a degree in biology in 1970, Brown was drafted into the Vietnam War. Due to failing a physical, he did work in Mexico and in America with Goodwill Industries to fulfill his two-year obligation.

As to how he got into the water and steam area, he chalked it up to good timing and a favorable background

“Having my background in science and technologies, I was looking for jobs that I could do with relatively little training,” Brown said. “More or less, it was falling into it and finding there was a pretty big need.”

During the infancy of the internet and online dating, Brown worked at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and met a woman who was a pastor in New Ulm. After courting each other for several months, he moved to New Ulm and started working for the New Ulm Water/Steam department in 1997.

“We started looking for jobs for each other,” Brown said. “She found a job in Des Moines at the same time I found this job up here. It looked like we were just going to change states but still not be together. She decided to stay here. When I got the job here, the Methodist Church was accommodating enough to give her an appointment at Oakwood church.”

The couple got married in 1997 and spent three years in New Ulm. At that point the water/steam plant was brand new, having been built in 1993. Looking for more of a challenge, Brown moved to Salina, Kansas to develop a wastewater training program at the local technical college.

After building the program for 12 years until grant funding ran out, an ad in the paper brought Brown back to New Ulm.

“We were visiting my stepson in the cities for Thanksgiving,” he said. “There was an ad in the paper for a position here in New Ulm. I applied for it and was accepted by Christmastime.”

Brown said the biggest change between when he left in 2000 and came back in 2014 was how the water pipes were handled.

“When I was here the first time the water system was set up, so the customers were responsible for the water pipes from the water main all the way into the house,” he said. “Which is different from every other city I worked in. But later on, we made the change and took responsibility for those.”

The biggest challenge Brown said he faced during his time was right as he began. During the 2013-14 winter, a particularly harsh winter froze 72 service lines across New Ulm. Brown said it was a massive undertaking replacing all the lines, and such a number has not been reached since.

One of the more creative solutions in Brown’s career came when they did an engineering study on the wells in New Ulm, looking to find more water. Brown said they were able to make space for water in wells four and six, by the community center and Puhlmann Lumber respectively.

“They were unusual because they’re in a limestone aquifer,” he said. “We put in dynamite charges and blew that. We got a lot of rock out of that and opened it up so we could get more water from those two wells.”

The first thing Brown said he is doing in his retirement is building his own kitchen cabinets, with the help of his brothers. He said he’s looking to continue staying busy, instead of watching the time fly by.

“It’s more getting used to not getting up, getting dressed, going to work, and knowing a certain routine,” he said. “My last day was the 15th of January, and it feels like a series of Saturdays since then.”

The city is currently in the process of finding a new Water/Steam Supervisor. For questions or concerns about New Ulm’s water or steam, call 507-359-8279.


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