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Yochum reflects on his decades of service to Cass County

WALKER--Robert (Bob) Yochum had a good enough executive job in 1996 at the age of 45 to to retire at 55 and move to a retirement property he and his wife, Germaine (Geri) had bought near Longville.

Retiring Cass County Administrator Robert Yochum calls Cass "The Center of the Universe" as he points to a map in his office showing Cass and its surrounding counties as proof. Photo by Monica Lundquist
Retiring Cass County Administrator Robert Yochum calls Cass "The Center of the Universe" as he points to a map in his office showing Cass and its surrounding counties as proof. Photo by Monica Lundquist

WALKER-Robert (Bob) Yochum had a good enough executive job in 1996 at the age of 45 to to retire at 55 and move to a retirement property he and his wife, Germaine (Geri) had bought near Longville. That plan, however, never happened. Instead, Bob and Geri moved, built a home on their retirement property in 1996. They have now lived there 20 years and Bob has worked 10 more years than he planned. He retired when he turned 65 this month. "I took a significant pay cut to come here," Yochum said during an interview on his last day of work Monday as Cass County's first county administrator. "It's about the culture that the county board and the community have here that make Cass County an appealing place to come to," he said, noting four of the county's recent executive new hires also have taken pay cuts to move here. "I joined an already successful team when I came here," he said. "It's been continuous improvement since then."
Not one of the 13 department heads has exactly the same job as when he came to Cass County. In some cases the job has changed. In others, the person in the job has changed, he said. It is said that good boards make good staff and good staff make good boards, Yochum said, adding, "We have that." How did Yochum change his life plans? His mother grew up in Hackensack. His dad grew up in Longville. As adults, they had moved to White Bear Lake for better employment and raised their children there. By 1996, they had retired and moved back to Longville where they built their retirement home on Yochum family property outside that city. Bob and Geri had bought 80 acres across the road from Bob's parents and planned to retire there. At that time they had settled in Faribault where Bob had been city administrator and then chief executive officer of a private business. That all changed when Geri spent a month with Bob's parents in the summer of 1996 to help them care for Bob's uncle, who had cancer. Geri read in an area newspaper that the county was considering hiring a county administrator. "She called me down in Faribault and said, 'You gotta get up here right away,'" Bob recalled. They then tracked the county's progress toward hiring through newspapers and Bob's parents' contact with a former county commissioner. Every Sunday after church, Bob's parents would try to get the latest update from the late Bob Blais, who attended the same church. Bob got updates from a then current county commissioner, the late Erv Ostlund. Yochum submitted one of many applications for the position. He had 11 years of experience as an assistant and an administrator for two cities and 11 years of executive experience for private companies, which proved enough to win the job. Being Cass' first administrator came with extra challenges. The county board deliberated for a year before deciding there would be a new executive position. Then the commissioners disagreed over whether to call the job a coordinator or an administrator. In the end, they advertised for a coordinator/administrator. There was some concern on the board and among some staff that an administrator might come into the job wanting to tell department heads how to do their job differently from what they had been doing. "I knew I had to prove the need for the position first, then prove myself to the board, the staff and the community," Yochum said. He was hired with one year, not six months, probation. At the end of that year, Yochum received a permanent appointment and "coordinator" got dropped from his title. It takes time to earn the trust of employees, he said. There were respectful challenges to the position that faded over time, he said. The administrator's job is to help the department heads to succeed, Yochum said, and to help them between board meetings. He said he only recalls actually giving an employee an order to do something two or three times over 20 years. "That's not how you do the job," he said. "The mission of the administrator's office is to provide effective, professional and efficient management services to elected and appointed county officials," is posted on the wall in Yochum's office below the county's mission statement. That reads: "The mission of Cass County is to deliver quality public services to the citizens in an effective, professional and efficient manner." Yochum has repeatedly emphasized good customer service to the public during his tenure. "We have to give a service for what people buy (with their taxes and fees) and give better services than the next guy," Yochum said of county government's role. He has posted words of advice on his office walls that reflect his philosophy. Some he wrote. Some he copied from other people. One reads: "It's not about you. It's not about me. It's about our customers." Another reads: "What the world needs is fewer rules and more good examples. Thank you for doing your part." Another reads: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." The following are county improvements Yochum cited from the last 20 years: • Cass County owns acreage at the former Ah-Gwah-Ching site for future county government expansion when needed. • Cass has a long range capital improvement plan that is updated annually. • Cass has improved communication and working relationships with townships, cities and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. • Cass' highway garages are being renovated and replaced. • Cass used citizen input to write a comprehensive plan and expanded zoning countywide. • Cass has relative labor peace with unions representing employees. • Cass' county board meetings have shortened from at least five hours to one or two hours. • Cass commissioners received first a paper board packet and now electronically, so they can read information ahead of each meeting rather than at the meeting. The board is much more organized today. • Cass has remained debt-free since the 1988 jail construction bond was paid off. The county has paid for new construction since then from its reserve funds (savings account). • Longville Ambulance Service District was created. In looking ahead to his retirement, Yochum said, "I take no pills. I have no pains." Geri has as "honey-do" list for him to tackle, but his skills only go as far as light carpentry, he said. "I plan to sign up for government programs (Social Security and Medicare) for the first time in my life, he added. He plans to spend more time with Geri. The couple will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary in January. He also plans to spend more time with his three grown children, Amy, Anne and Matthew, and two granddaughters and five grandsons, who range between ages 7 and 20, and with the two grand-dogs, who are mixed breeds. Keeping an eye on the grand-dogs might be a good thing, because one of those before the current ones ate Geri's favorite shoes when it was visiting them. Yochum also has been asking retired friends what to expect. "It takes longer to do things I'm already doing," he said he was warned. It also is a challenge to find people to do things with, he has been told. WALKER-Robert (Bob) Yochum had a good enough executive job in 1996 at the age of 45 to to retire at 55 and move to a retirement property he and his wife, Germaine (Geri) had bought near Longville.That plan, however, never happened.Instead, Bob and Geri moved, built a home on their retirement property in 1996. They have now lived there 20 years and Bob has worked 10 more years than he planned. He retired when he turned 65 this month."I took a significant pay cut to come here," Yochum said during an interview on his last day of work Monday as Cass County's first county administrator."It's about the culture that the county board and the community have here that make Cass County an appealing place to come to," he said, noting four of the county's recent executive new hires also have taken pay cuts to move here."I joined an already successful team when I came here," he said. "It's been continuous improvement since then."
Not one of the 13 department heads has exactly the same job as when he came to Cass County. In some cases the job has changed. In others, the person in the job has changed, he said.It is said that good boards make good staff and good staff make good boards, Yochum said, adding, "We have that."How did Yochum change his life plans?His mother grew up in Hackensack. His dad grew up in Longville. As adults, they had moved to White Bear Lake for better employment and raised their children there.By 1996, they had retired and moved back to Longville where they built their retirement home on Yochum family property outside that city. Bob and Geri had bought 80 acres across the road from Bob's parents and planned to retire there. At that time they had settled in Faribault where Bob had been city administrator and then chief executive officer of a private business.That all changed when Geri spent a month with Bob's parents in the summer of 1996 to help them care for Bob's uncle, who had cancer. Geri read in an area newspaper that the county was considering hiring a county administrator."She called me down in Faribault and said, 'You gotta get up here right away,'" Bob recalled.They then tracked the county's progress toward hiring through newspapers and Bob's parents' contact with a former county commissioner.Every Sunday after church, Bob's parents would try to get the latest update from the late Bob Blais, who attended the same church. Bob got updates from a then current county commissioner, the late Erv Ostlund.Yochum submitted one of many applications for the position. He had 11 years of experience as an assistant and an administrator for two cities and 11 years of executive experience for private companies, which proved enough to win the job.Being Cass' first administrator came with extra challenges. The county board deliberated for a year before deciding there would be a new executive position.Then the commissioners disagreed over whether to call the job a coordinator or an administrator. In the end, they advertised for a coordinator/administrator.There was some concern on the board and among some staff that an administrator might come into the job wanting to tell department heads how to do their job differently from what they had been doing."I knew I had to prove the need for the position first, then prove myself to the board, the staff and the community," Yochum said. He was hired with one year, not six months, probation.At the end of that year, Yochum received a permanent appointment and "coordinator" got dropped from his title.It takes time to earn the trust of employees, he said. There were respectful challenges to the position that faded over time, he said.The administrator's job is to help the department heads to succeed, Yochum said, and to help them between board meetings.He said he only recalls actually giving an employee an order to do something two or three times over 20 years."That's not how you do the job," he said."The mission of the administrator's office is to provide effective, professional and efficient management services to elected and appointed county officials," is posted on the wall in Yochum's office below the county's mission statement.That reads: "The mission of Cass County is to deliver quality public services to the citizens in an effective, professional and efficient manner."Yochum has repeatedly emphasized good customer service to the public during his tenure."We have to give a service for what people buy (with their taxes and fees) and give better services than the next guy," Yochum said of county government's role.He has posted words of advice on his office walls that reflect his philosophy. Some he wrote. Some he copied from other people.One reads: "It's not about you. It's not about me. It's about our customers."Another reads: "What the world needs is fewer rules and more good examples. Thank you for doing your part."Another reads: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."The following are county improvements Yochum cited from the last 20 years:• Cass County owns acreage at the former Ah-Gwah-Ching site for future county government expansion when needed.• Cass has a long range capital improvement plan that is updated annually.• Cass has improved communication and working relationships with townships, cities and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.• Cass' highway garages are being renovated and replaced.• Cass used citizen input to write a comprehensive plan and expanded zoning countywide.• Cass has relative labor peace with unions representing employees.• Cass' county board meetings have shortened from at least five hours to one or two hours.• Cass commissioners received first a paper board packet and now electronically, so they can read information ahead of each meeting rather than at the meeting. The board is much more organized today.• Cass has remained debt-free since the 1988 jail construction bond was paid off. The county has paid for new construction since then from its reserve funds (savings account).• Longville Ambulance Service District was created.In looking ahead to his retirement, Yochum said, "I take no pills. I have no pains."Geri has as "honey-do" list for him to tackle, but his skills only go as far as light carpentry, he said."I plan to sign up for government programs (Social Security and Medicare) for the first time in my life, he added.He plans to spend more time with Geri. The couple will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary in January.He also plans to spend more time with his three grown children, Amy, Anne and Matthew, and two granddaughters and five grandsons, who range between ages 7 and 20, and with the two grand-dogs, who are mixed breeds.Keeping an eye on the grand-dogs might be a good thing, because one of those before the current ones ate Geri's favorite shoes when it was visiting them.Yochum also has been asking retired friends what to expect."It takes longer to do things I'm already doing," he said he was warned. It also is a challenge to find people to do things with, he has been told.

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