HAWARDEN—Public service is a calling, and for more than 30 years, Mike DeBruin has answered that call.
Now he’s answering a different call with Dec. 31 as his final day as Hawarden city administrator. After that, DeBruin, 57, will move on to work in the private sector, having spent 28 years in law enforcement and four years as city administrator, the role which he is retiring from.
His last city council meeting was Dec. 22, and he read a statement giving thanks to his wife, Leah, and their kids, to the city council and mayor, and city staff he worked alongside.
“This has been an amazing adventure. I’ve done things I would have never gotten the opportunity to do, met many amazing people I otherwise would have never gotten to meet, creating lifelong friendships along the way,” DeBruin said.
Born and raised in Hawarden, the second oldest of four kids, DeBruin wasn’t sure what was in store for him upon graduating from West Sioux High School in 1982.
“I was like a lot of high school kids. ‘What are you going to do for the rest of your life?’ ‘I don’t know,’” he said.
Later he began attending Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, pursuing a degree in business administration. But while going through his courses, he needed a job and began looking for part-time work.
“I was married and had two kids,” DeBruin said. “An opening came up at the Hawarden Police Department. The year prior, I had mowed for the city, so I applied for a part-time position with the police department and was accepted.”
That shot in the dark turned into a full-time job and a career for DeBruin, one that he enjoyed and took pride in.
“It all worked out,” DeBruin said. “I enjoyed the different array of activities you had. Some of the things weren’t so good, some of the things were good. But it was doing something different all the time and that was enjoyable.”
His time in law enforcement did see some challenges — there were three murders while he was with the police department — but through the everyday encounters and interactions with people, there were plenty of good memories as well.
“It’s mostly the people in the community and the people I worked with and people outside the community that you grow close with who are in the same profession,” DeBruin said.
His responsibilities increased when he took on the position of police chief in 1999.
“You’re responsible for your officers, for the financial aspect of your department as well as you still patrol a normal shift and answer the dog and animal calls. And the bigger a criminal case got, the more responsibility was on you to make sure it got done correctly,” DeBruin said.
But it was a role he was happy to serve in. He had planned to stay in law enforcement for his 30 years and then retire, but then-city administrator Gary Tucker approached him, encouraging him to consider applying for the city administrator job.
“At first I wasn’t really excited about it,” DeBruin said. “The more that Gary and I talked about it, I began to think, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’”
And so in early 2018, DeBruin was hired. Since then, a lot of the city’s attention has been on improving the Hawarden’s downtown and updating utilities, including a $3.5 million project to update equipment and buildings at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Focusing on the city’s downtown has been one way that the city has been trying to enhance its economic development, DeBruin said.
“I heard a lot from people who’ve traveled through town that when they looked down Main Street, they thought it looked old and no reason to turn down Main Street if you didn’t know what was there,” DeBruin said. “So my goal was to improve Main Street and hopefully that would be catchy and some of our empty storefronts would fill up, which did happen.
“I think any time you can improve your community in that way, it’s a positive impact. Now people driving through when they look down our Main Street, maybe they’ll wonder what’s down there.”
New housing in Hawarden is a bit of a rare thing, but in the last four years, 10 houses have been built.
DeBruin said that part of the reason for that is because more people are seeing the value of living and investing in Hawarden, with community amenities such as the walking trail, the parks, the pool and the Big Sioux Recreation Area having played their part in that.
“You have all the amenities you need here. People move to communities where there are amenities, where they can find some enjoyment in their downtime,” DeBruin said.
As for Hawarden’s future, DeBruin said housing will play a key part in the city’s fortunes.
“We need to continue to look at our housing and seeing how we can develop housing. We’ve seen some houses go up, so we know it can happen,” DeBruin said. “As we see that go up, hopefully we can have more money to offer more amenities to the community and expand on the amenities and quality of life things we have. Maybe that means expanding our walking trail or maybe promoting itself more.”
With a lifetime of experience in Hawarden, DeBruin said that this is a place where its residents can take pride in itself and work together to make it the best that it can be.