After 29 years as a West Fargo resident - ten of those as a city commissioner - Lou Bennett has announced he is pulling up roots and moving southeast to be closer to family - at least during the winter months.
Bennett made the announcement official during the regularly scheduled commission meeting Monday night that he is stepping down from his third four-year term and moving with his wife, Barbara, "to the little town of Bluffton, South Carolina" where they have purchased a home.
He was first elected to the commission in 2002; was re-elected in 2006, and again in 2010 with his present term expiring in June of 2014.
Bennett said they sold their West Fargo home in June and are currently living in their lake home on Star Lake. In mid-September they will be moving to Bluffton where they plan to reside during the winter months and return to Star Lake for the summer.
That's where Bennett was born and raised. He has a brother and two nieces that live there now.
"This is something we had talked about over the years and the past couple of years we made a decision," Bennett said. "My brother is getting up in age and we decided once Barb retired we would go somewhere down south. We made that decision last December when we saw a house there we liked and bought it."
The timing was perfect since Barb retired from her 30-year career with the Internal Revenue Service at the end of last year on Dec. 31.
Before settling in at Bluffton, the Bennett's are going to take a well-deserved week's vacation in Cancun, a familiar vacation spot for the family, having traveled their yearly since the mid-90s - even once caught there in hurricane "Wilma" leaving them virtually stranded.
After they get back they will be get busy unpacking household goods, all 140 boxes already shipped there, representing 29 years of life in the same West Fargo home.
"That's longer than I have lived anyplace in my life," Bennett quipped.
"Once the unpacking is done, we are going to relax, take things easy and start working on a couple of projects at our leisure. We are thinking about building a storage shed for outside and a fence around the house to keep our two little dogs corralled."
Bennett noted that they are not looking at this move as closure to their time in West Fargo. "This will just be a brief interruption and we will be back. We will enjoy the weather down there. Instead of the brutally cold weather, hopefully, it will be moderate winters. We will keep our doctors and dentists here and have been rearranging our appointments so we will have one before we leave and one when we get back."
As for his decade on the city commission, Bennett is quick to say he has enjoyed it all from the "very beginning. I felt it was something I should do - to give back a little something to the community and this was my way of doing it."
During his tenure he pretty much covered the gamut, holding all the city portfolios twice, including police and fire, sewer and water, and most recently, sanitation. He also served a stint as vice president of the group, presiding in the mayor's absence, and served as city liaison on both the library and forestry boards for several years.
Bennett said he has been gratified by his associations.
"I was involved with the library in the early years. We were able to get a new library built and that was something the city can be proud of. We used an existing building (the old West Fargo Middle School) that would have otherwise gone into disrepair, put the library there, and also provided a basis for other things to go in there so the building is now in full use."
Bennett also proudly mentions the Ninth Street overpass that segues into Veterans Boulevard, now a high construction zone area. "We got that going and built and that has been a big boon for the area. Our growth has continued and we worked hard on the commercial aspect to see a lot of new buildings and businesses. We now have a Costco coming to town, which will result in good competition for the area. Between that and the hospital across the street will be the basis for drawing more business throughout that commercial area."
He also offers kudos and praise to the people he's had the privilege of being associated with through the years.
"I've worked with some fantastic people on the commission as well as wonderful city employees. Being the police commissioner was a very rewarding time for me. Our police are some of the finest in the country. Every time you turn around they do something unexpected to make the city look even better. The same can be said about the fire department which has now also grown to include a location to the south. All in all, we've done quite well as a city - thanks to everyone's efforts."
In addition to serving on the commission, Bennett always took a keen interest in other community endeavors including the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and as a member of the local AMVETS Post 8, relationships he will continue.
The Bennetts also took pride in family life in the community. They are the parents of three grown children: Stephanie, Erin and Laura. A son, Tim, passed away three years ago following a lengthy illness.
Now that the decision has been made to literally move on, Bennett is feeling good about it and can unwind a little. "At the present, it is a matter of enjoying the rest of summer, making the trip down there, getting acclimated, and then getting ready to come back here in the spring. This is just a brief 'see you later' and then we will be back. You're not going to get rid of me that easily."
After hearing the resignation announcement Monday night, West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern commended Bennett for his dedication to the board, stating it had been a distinct honor to serve with him for the past ten years. "We've certainly seen many positive changes through the years and a great deal of it is due to your hard work in keeping West Fargo a city on the grow. You and I have agreed on many issues and voted that way. Conversely, we've also disagreed on some issues, but that is the way it should be. Whether we have agreed or disagreed, what has always impressed me commissioner Bennett is that you always have voted in the best interests of West Fargo residents. Your votes have been well thought out, logical and you've remained flexible. That is what has kept our city moving forward. For that and on behalf of the residents of West Fargo, a big, big thank you for all that you have done for our city. That includes your time on the forestry committee and one of your first loves, the library board."
"Lou, we will miss you on the commission, but on the other hand congratulations to you and your lovely bride Barb as you move into the next stage of your life, come visit us often. Again, a big thank you for all that you have done for our city."
Commissioners Mark Simmons, Mike Thorstad and Duane Hanson also offered their thank you's and best wishes.
"I just want to say, that it has been such an honor and privilege to work with you over the past eight years," Simmons said. "You have always stood up for what you thought was right for the city of West Fargo, and for that we will all be eternally grateful. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors and your retirement. You've earned it."
Thorstad agreed. "It's been great working with you. Being a commissioner is more work than people realize. You have been an extremely hard working one and a great servant to the city. I wish you and your wife, Barb, best wishes for a great retirement and want you to know that we certainly do appreciate your service to the city."
Commissioner Hanson added that he was sorry to see Bennett go. "Lou has served the city well for so many years and will be missed for his services which have been invaluable. You really are retired now and I wish you well."
As for filling Bennett's vacated position, city ordinance says that if a commissioner resigns in the middle of his term either five percent of the citizens who voted in the last election have a 15-day time frame to petition for a special election to designate an individual; or if the time expires and this doesn't happen, an individual can be appointed by the city commission to fill the unexpired term with the individual serving until the next regular city election.