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Barthelemy retires after more than 32 years with city

Bill Barthelemy is retiring after more than 32 years with the city of Bemidji. He first started with the city in its engineering department and then, later, was named the city's building official. His last day is today, but the city will host a reception in his honor Thursday afternoon. (Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper)

Bill Barthelemy, then single, volunteered himself to be laid off several decades ago, opting to spare his married coworkers from financial stresses. He returned to his hometown of Bemidji, pledging to return the following spring to the Twin Cities-based engineering firm.

But he never returned.

Instead, Barthelemy in 1974 purchased a bar north of town (currently known as Jammers). He named it the Sportsmen's Den.

One of his former coworkers, though, remained in touch. And, in 1978, mentioned that the city of Bemidji was going to transition from relying on consulting engineers to founding its own engineering department.

Was Barthelemy interested in applying?

He interviewed with the new city engineer and was offered the job on the spot, thanks to some positive references and recommendations.

"I took the position," Barthelemy said.

But, even as he tried to juggle the daytime work and the late nights at the bar, he finally had to make a decision.

"I was kind of burning the candle at both ends," he said.

He ultimately sided with the dependable salary and benefits and sold the bar in 1980.

Now, 32 years and 10 months after he was hired by the city of Bemidji, Barthelemy is retiring as the city's building official. City Hall will host a public reception for Barthelemy 2-4 p.m. Thursday, March 31, with cake and coffee.

"It was a nice, long run," he said. "It was enjoyable working for the city."

He worked full-time in the engineering department until 1997, when he was asked to help with some of the building official duties.

He obtained the first step toward certification, the building official limited certification, and began a new work schedule: three-fourths time in engineering and one-fourth time in the building department.

Later that year, right after deer hunting, as he recalled, Barthelemy was called into the city engineer's office. The door was closed and he was told the building official had resigned.

Was Barthelemy interested in filling in?

He was.

Barthelemy said he did not have a ton of experience in the building department at the time, but he had obtained some certification. He then began working toward his full certification. He went through the full interview process and was named the permanent building official in 2000.

"It's quite challenging," he said of the work he has done.

The building department oversees all new construction and remodeling projects within the city limits. Most require a building permit.

"When you come in and get a permit, it's like walking into a dental office," Barthelemy said, noting that it can seem to be an intimidating experience.

He said he has always tried to make customers feel at ease.

"We'll work it out," he said of the permit requests. "We do try to make it as simple as possible. Some projects are more complex. Some projects are more simple."

The department has two full-time employees and a part-time consultant who handles rental inspections. Full-time staff now includes Barthelemy and Mike Miller, the building inspector. Miller has been named Barthelemy's replacement. Joining him soon will be Jerry Linke, who is coming to Bemidji from Spring Lake Park, Minn.

Barthelemy's last day is today, March 30.

He said he is looking forward to retirement but plans to remain busy. He lives on Lake Beltrami with his wife, Mary, who is a retired nurse, and their two Shih Tzus. The couple plans to take some time and visit their six grandchildren, who live throughout the Midwest. Barthelemy also plans to do some yard work and do some fishing and golfing.

He also plans to volunteer. Mary has been doing some mission work in Mexico and Barthelemy said he has some ideas for volunteering in the Bemidji area as well.

"It's time to give back to the community what the community has given to me," he said.