Hubbard County’s environmental pioneer calls it a day after 41 years
BY Sarah smith
On June 28, Hubbard County will lose an environmental trailblazer with the retirement of Solid Waste Superintendent Vern Massie.
Massie, 63, said after “41 years, eight months” and numerous days, he thinks it’s time to move on.
He hopes the environmental regulations, recycling programs and transfer stations he helped institute will stand for many years.
“We have the (waste disposal) best system in the state of Minnesota,” he said without a trace of ego. “I think we did a lot of good.”
It was Nov. 9, 1971 when Massie began his career at Hubbard County as a clerk/typist in the planning and zoning office.
He was born, raised and educated in Park Rapids. He’d attended a vo-tech school in Bemidji before taking an accounting job in Fargo, where he was promptly drafted.
His scheduled tour of Vietnam was diverted so he could help the Army transition from the draft to the volunteer organization it is today.
Massie was in charge of ordering supplies for the volunteers coming to Fort Ord, an Army post at Monterey Bay, Cal.
There he saw the Army go upscale. Instead of unidentifiable rations from a mess hall, soldier meals went to a restaurant style of food, where soldiers could get burgers and fries, not mystery meat.
Instead of barracks, volunteers were assigned cubicles, all in an effort to entice them to join.
He had intended to return to his accounting job once he’d finished his service duty.
His father-in-law at the time gave him some words of wisdom: “Don’t ever go to work for that blanketey blank planning and zoning office.”
It was career suicide, the man suggested.
Massie lasted at the clerk/typist job about two years, then was appointed to head the planning and zoning office, where he stayed until 1989.
In 1978, the office was combined with solid waste, so Massie wore two hats.
“We’ve gone from landfilling to incineration to recycling and now back to landfilling,” he said.
He quickly learned why his former father-in-law had tried to warn him away from the planning and zoning office.
“We’d have to go to town board meetings to explain lakeshore regulations,” he recalled with a wry look.
“They hated it,” he said of the public reception he received. ”They didn’t really want regulations” dictating growth on the county’s lakes.
“It went to something they now demand,” he said of the changing times.
He remembers going out to look at a sewer system on Grace Lake years ago. The landowner’s neighbor was sitting on his cabin porch with a shotgun, warning Massie not to step on his property.
Massie helped steer early shoreline efforts and environmental regulations that kept landowners from building on the shores of local lakes, while at the time forming a statewide waste association.
Between the state planning and zoning association he helped establish, Massie attended years of meetings serving on those two boards.
He helped draft the county’s on-site sewer regulations in 1974 with the University of Minnesota and served on a guidance committee for demolition landfills.
“I fought hard for things the (Minnesota) Pollution Control Agency wanted to take away from us,” he said.
He was also on the ground floor of the Mississippi Headwaters board.
In 1987 he oversaw the building of Hubbard County’s two transfer stations, which are now a model for other counties.
“I wished I had a buck for every car that went in and out of there since they built it,” he said.
He’s received well wishes from state and county officials asking him to stay on.
“I’ve made lots of good friends,” he reminisced.
In 1989 Hubbard County split the solid waste department off and formed what is now the Environmental Services Office. Massie, by his own admission, “went to chasing rats on garbage.”
Massie owns a small ranch with cattle and horses.
He and his brother have hauled livestock for years and he plans to continue custom hauling.
“I didn’t retire so I could die,” he laughs.
He’s approaching the third anniversary of a farm accident that nearly killed him.
A loader for his tractor pinned him as it backed over him.
At the time he described his mangled leg as “Swiss cheese.”
He’s made a full recovery with some chronic aches and pains and a lot of battle scare but he’s a fit and health 63-year-old.
He’ll still ride horses and do auctioneering. He and his wife have six grown children and four grandchildren between them. She loves to fish.
“I’ve never had time for it,” Massie said. “Maybe I’ll take my wife fishing.”
He wants the county to move forward with a plan to do organic composting at the north transfer station at Kabekona.
The transfer stations have been dubbed the Henrietta Mall, at the Park Rapids location, and the Kabekona Kmart at the north location.
He thinks Kabekona is an ideal place for the organic compost, which has a tendency to attract flocks of birds. He doesn’t want birds anywhere near the Park Rapids airport.
He’s pleased at the environmental movement that has taken hold in Hubbard County. And he said he couldn’t have accomplished what he did without the support of many Hubbard County boards.
He’s also active in the American Legion and was recently elected to a district post overseeing 70 Legion clubs for the next year.
“One guy said a vacation to me was another job,” Massie said. “In retirement I may not have a steady job but it will be something.”