by Deb Havens
Most of us respond to stories about our government with a cynical eye roll. We don’t expect much from our leadership these days outside of gridlock and frustration. Barbara Van Duren, 58, Wyoming Deputy City Manager for the last 14 years and 7 months, makes you feel differently. Ironically, this story is about her retirement from government service, recently celebrated at the Wyoming Public Library to make room for the crowd of family, friends, and fellow employees who attended.
Barbara is leaving to spend time with her husband, John Crofoot, 8 years older than she, who called in a promise she made several years ago. “I told him I would retire when I turned 55, but I stretched that to age 58,” she admitted. She was having too good a time on the job to leave.
One project close to her heart is 28 West, the re-development of 28th street to compete with shopping opportunities at Woodland and Rivertown malls. “28th street needs a facelift,” she said. For the last 4 years, Barbara has worked on an upgrade to the Wyoming Village Mall at 28th and Michael, slated for a grand re-opening Christmas 2015. The addition of Crescent Street will add a more shopper-friendly environment with easy parking and walkable access to shopping and dining on both sides of the tree-lined street, a prospect Barbara finds, “very exciting!”
Barbara agrees her enthusiasm for government service may be quite different from the average citizen’s. “When people hear about government, it’s generally the state or federal government. They rarely hear about local, but that’s where we put boots on the ground – we get the snow plowed, we work closely with the public so our community remains vibrant.”
Local government also faces dramatic challenges more threatening to the future than a heavy snowfall. Such was the case after the GM plant closed. Rather than being paralyzed by the prospect of job loss, a situation that affected much of the east side of the state, the Wyoming team swung into action immediately. “We took control of the property right away. We were the first to have the plant demolished and ready for someone new to come in. It’s ready now for redevelopment. ” Even a challenge this size did not diminish Barbara’s enthusiasm. “I loved my work. It was always diverse with something new to do.”
In fact, Barbara’s job has been such a fulfilling experience she feels a certain anxiety leaving it. “What I’ll miss most will be the people who work here. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true – they’re like family to me.” Based on the retirement ceremony her colleagues planned for her, they feel the same way.
Attended by community leaders including Mayor Jack Poll, police and fire officials, as well as people who worked every day with her, Barbara was celebrated with speeches, a retirement clock, and a special surprise: The U.S. flag and the Wyoming flag that had flown over the city that day were passed around the room so all attendees could put their hands and their hearts into the memories they shared with Barbara of serving the city together. “I had tears in my eyes,” she said, “and I still can’t sleep at night thinking of the wonderful things they said about me.”
Barbara will have plenty to think about in the future. She and her husband plan to vacation in the west for 2 weeks, then travel to Alaska later this year. “We want to go while we’re still healthy and able to enjoy time with each other,” she said. The City of Wyoming is equally healthy, and for that, Barbara has earned our thanks as well as a rewarding retirement.