After 37 years at the City of St. Helens, Neal Sheppeard, Public Works Operations Director, is starting a new chapter in his life.
Sheppeard retired on April 30.
To celebrate his successful tenure, the city threw Sheppeard a retirement party in Council Chambers on Wednesday, May 1. The room featured decorations of black and orange balloons and streamers, recognizing the work that Public Works does for the annual “Spirit of Halloweentown” event. A slideshow of some of Sheppeard’s moments with Public Works during the last four decades played in the background.
A few people made speeches, including St. Helens City Council president, Doug Morten. He said Sheppeard played an integral role in bridging a communication and trust gap between city councilors and city staff about 12 years ago. “This guy I’ve leaned on a lot to bring things together,” Morten said. He described Sheppeard as “trusting, communicative, and supportive.”
Morten also said, “I couldn’t be more fortunate to work with someone like Neal.”
Sheppeard also made a speech, in which he thanked his colleagues for their camaraderie. “I’m not going to miss the work, to be honest,” Sheppeard said about his upcoming retirement. “I am going to miss the people.”
In a more personal interview with The Chronicle, Sheppeard expanded on these thoughts. “The staff here is real professional. It’s a good group to be involved with,” he said.
For example, one activity the city staff does, according to Sheppeard, is hosting monthly birthday parties for all staff members with a birthday that month. “It’s like everybody cares about everybody,” he said.
Sheppeard said he began working for the city in 1975. After three years, he was laid off as a result of the budget crunch. He was re-hired soon after and has been working for St. Helens ever since. His positions have run the gamut from being “the guy in the ditch,” to holding a field supervisor position, to becoming the Director of Public Works.
Sheppeard said his most challenging times were dealing with natural disasters and sometimes having to tell residents that their homes are damaged beyond repair after severe flooding.
His career has also seen the development of the city’s water treatment plant, which Sheppeard said was the biggest project he has worked on during his time with St. Helens Public Works. He has worked with the City longer than any current City employee.
“He is very knowledgeable,” St. Helens Public Works Engineering Director Sue Nelson said. “He understands what needs to get done and he knows who to disperse to make sure that different projects are completed correctly and efficiently.”
One of the challenging situations Sheppeard intervened in was the construction of the Godfrey Park storm drain project. Nelson said that during the project, it became impossible for the contractor to continue working because it involved tunneling under a massive amount of dirt.
According to Nelson, Sheppeard, “came up with a solution that saved the city thousands and thousands of dollars.” Sheppeard’s idea involved simply removing the obstruction, rather than tunneling through it, which ended up being a more cost-effective tactic.
“We’re happy he gets to finally retire, but it’s hard to see him go,” Nelson said. “I think he's interacted with so many people, they just know to call him up if they have issues and things like that.”
Sheppeard said his retirement plans include, “anything that I feel like, that I can afford to do.”
Golfing and fishing are part of his retirement plan, but also taking care of his parents’ house, which Sheppeard recently inherited after his father died. “I’ll be keeping busy for sure,” Sheppeard said.
Sheppeard also said he had one last group to thank. “I would like to thank the citizens of St. Helens for giving me the opportunity to serve them over the years and for providing me with a really good job,” he said.